06 October 2008

Text messaging and other forms of personal communication

Recently, I tried text messaging (for real, not for goofing around). It can actually be useful, contrary to its image as a youthful American fad (I'm told that Europeans and Asians text all the time regardless of age).

I can think of several different methods of personal communication.
  • One-on-one in-person conversation
    The best way to talk to someone, but it can hard to arrange a meeting especially as people get older and busier. Also, this can be confrontational and intense, which is not desired in every situation. Examples: having dinner with a friend, taking a walk with a friend, traveling on the train with a friend.
  • In-person conversation in a group setting
    The good thing about this method is that at least you can see the person's facial expressions. The bad thing is that there are a lot of things you can't say directly when there are people around. I find it difficult to say anything serious in these situations, so I end up making jokes. Examples: hockey locker room, waiting for a meeting to start, mingling at an apartment party.
  • Phone conversation
    This is a very good substitute for one-on-one in-person conversations. Unfortunately, it can be just as hard to get a hold of someone on the phone as in-person. I find that the phone can be a little problematic if I'm speaking to someone who talks fast and doesn't like to be interrupted. I can't throw visual cues to get the person to slow down (actually this happens for me in in-person conversations as well).
  • Email
    Email is mainly great for short, non-emotional conversations or for getting things done (e.g. scheduling). You don't have to interrupt someone's schedule like you do if you talk to them in person or on the phone. In fact, if you are trying to talk to a busy, unavailable person, email is the only way to get in touch. If you are having weighty conversations and email is your only means of communication, be aware of the potential for feelings to get blown out of proportion. It's altogether too easy to project things that aren't there onto skeletal words. For this reason, fights over email are horrible. My problem is that I frequently ramble over email because I'm a better writer than speaker. The flip side is that I find it easier to express how I feel over email.
  • Text messaging
    This is a lot like email, but since people check their cell phones a lot more than email, they are more likely to pick up the message sooner. Text messaging can be very useful for check-up messages like "Did you pick up the milk?" or "Did you get my email?" If your friend is very busy and her computer is also broken (this really happened to me), text messaging is the only option. Text messaging is less intimidating and obtrusive than calling a person's cell phone. I hate to pick up voice mail sometimes, but I have no problem reading a text message. Also, it looks less rude for me to glance at my cell phone than to hold it at my ear. The downside of text messaging is that it's hard to write long messages. If you have access to a computer, you can send a text message via email.
The upshot is that when you pick a communication method, think about what you want to accomplish, think about your strengths and weaknesses as well as for the other person, and think about how long you want the conversation to be. Sometimes a 15 minute phone conversation is worth ten emails.

Next time, I'll write about public communication, including tools like Facebook, Flickr, blogging, and forums.

No comments:

Post a Comment