Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Which Medium?

Every once in a while, I have something I want to share. Maybe I just thought of (in my opinion) an incredibly witty quip, or maybe someone I know has been especially helpful to me and I'd like to tell them. Humans communicate about everything, and I think it's interesting to take a look at a few of the ways we do that and why some are more appropriate in certain situations.

Appropriateness of medium is a little strange if you really take the time to consider it. If I need to tell someone "I'm sorry," why should the message be different depending on whether I tell it to them in person or over a tweet? Why is a love letter so cherished and stored for years, while the text message "I luv u XOXO" is much more easily discarded? I've heard many times, often regarding breakups, the line "I can't believe he/she couldn't say that to my face." All examples of mismanaged media.

There are a few reasons I want to touch on, along with a couple of my personal favorite media options, and I'll wrap up with what I think is the underlying differentiator between different types of media.

The first reason some methods of communication are inappropriate for certain situations is effort.

Telling someone I'm deeply sorry for their loss in person at a funeral carries much more weight than a Facebook message partially because it just takes more effort. There's a much greater chance that I'm sincere if I got dressed up, drove to a Church, and waited in line to express my sympathy than if I rolled out of bed without combing my hair and pecked out my condolences on a keyboard before my morning shower.

A second reason is effectiveness.

Someone is bleeding profusely on the sidewalk! Quickly, how do you contact the proper help? If you answered "write an urgent letter to the hospital, asking for assistance, post haste!" you're either living in the 1800's or you need to think a little bit about how effective your communication is. That might be a ridiculously silly example, but it gets my point across. Some situations are better resolved through one medium than another. Desperately trying to get a hold of someone for an address while they're in a meeting at work? A text message might be your best option. Wishing your Grandmother across the country a happy birthday? A phone call is probably optimal (unless you have the resources to fly over to her for a birthday hug, of course). Simple enough.

Now more difficult: need to let a friend know that you were hurt by something they did? It's probably time to assess the situation to make a decision. You could talk to them in person, confronting them about their actions. You could call them to talk about the issue. You could write a carefully worded email expressing your feelings. A lot of it depends on who the person is.

My favorite method of communication is email. If you've known me for any significant period of time, there's a decent chance you've gotten at least one from me. I often write emails when a face to face conversation would be more appropriate, a phone call would be more convenient, or a text message would suffice.

This is because, frankly, I'm not great at face to face conversation, I suck at using the phone, and I'm a little long winded and punctuation dependent for texts. Email gives me the opportunity to sit with my thoughts for as long as I need before committing to them for public consumption. I've had foot-in-mouth moments more times than I can count, but I can honestly say that there aren't any emails I would REALLY like to have back. What I have had is emails where I've read through my first draft and thought, "Wow. That would have been an awful thing to send." before editing (and on a couple of occasions, re-editing over and over for a week or so) them. My mind has a decent filter, but it's often incredibly slow. Being able to parse my thoughts and choose my words carefully gives me the chance to make sure I'm saying exactly what I want and need to say.

This brings me to my final point, and the one that got me started on this whole subject in the first place. The main difference between types of media is vulnerability.

Putting ourselves in vulnerable situations is one of the most convincing signs of sincerity and respect. There's a reason kneeling is a sign of submission. For all of the good things that come along with writing an email, it still allows me to hide behind the wall of the internet. Posting something on someone's Facebook wall is different than sending them a private message because a private message implies private content, which can expose motives. Talking to someone in person is different than talking to them on the phone because you're forced to acknowledge their facial expressions and body language, just as talking on the phone is different than email because you pick up on inflection and emotion more easily.

I don't really know where to go from here, so I'll just leave it at that. Hopefully it's a little bit of food for thought as you consider all of your communication options.

1 comment:

  1. Great post...you're a good writer...and you're absolutely right!

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