Claire Sawers writes an interesting article in The Scotsman about the changing face of friendship in a world of increasing speed and diverse methods of communicating:
Thanks to email, blogging and the trusty text message, there’s no excuse for not keeping your nearest and dearest up-to-date with the latest news
Yet she muses on whether these changed methods of communication are adversely affecting the quality of friendships:
Should we feel insulted if the only contact we have with our oldest friends is a smug group email circulated at Christmas? And is it etiquette to communicate solely through text messages, hastily typed out and pinged into the ether on the train home from work?
Stephen Miller, author of “Conversation: A History of a Declining Art”, has concerns over the dying art of face-to-face conversation, rich as it is with body language, humour, gesture, and subtle nuance.
“For good conversation to flourish, you need time to meander. It shouldn’t feel like a business meeting,” he says. “People now expect instant soundbites, or quick-fire bursts of information. Text conversations often end up as nothing more than back-and-forth chit-chat, with pointless trivia replacing meaningful exchanges.”
This well-written article is paraphrased by the words of a Catriona Bianconi:
“I used to meet with my friends for coffee and a natter, but now everyone has such busy lives, it’s easier to swap a few text messages every couple of weeks.”
Is technology killing off real conversation and meaningful relationships? Sadly, and for all the communications benefits that I so love, I think there’s a large grain of truth in Miller’s concerns:
- Social networking sites encourage us to build contact lists containing tens or even hundreds of ‘friends’ that we’ve never met in real life and will probably never spend a decent amount of time with. That’s not to say that they can’t be meaningful, or become as real as any physical relationship, but there’s surely only so many people any one human can cope with having as friends.
- Technology can make us very lazy. I find myself opting for email, text message, or (at a push) an instant message, instead of speaking on the telephone or visiting someone in person, even for very close friends. Sometimes that’s appropriate. At other times, making the effort would have strengthened the relationship.
- You can’t share food over the Internet! It just doesn’t work. And we all know how easily the written word – or text message – can be misinterpreted. Smilies are all well and good to a point, but they can’t replace being in the same room as your mates, sharing a meal together or watching a film, playing football, laughing, joking, smiling, hugging.
On the other hand, technology can be very useful for supplementing existing friendships and creating new ones that may even move from the virtual to the physical:
- In an Internet and wi-fi connected generation, it’s quick, easy, and generally free (or cheap) to send a quick “How’s it going?” IM, email, or text message. It keeps the relationship ticking with communication between physical meetings, when the alternative may have been silence. It’s how I keep better in touch with friends in other parts of the country who I only meet once or twice a year.
- I met my wife via the Internet, and whilst it could’ve happened in a more traditional way, I’m certainly not complaining that the Internet makes it possible to form and build new relationships.
There’s little doubt that the process of forming, keeping, and even ending relationships has evolved along with communication technology.
A mixed blessing? Possibly, but the basic nature of relationships hasn’t changed at all. They take effort, commitment, and compromise. Help them shine by positively using technology to keep in touch with the important people around you.