TWEET LOUDER, I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

That communication within relationships has evolved, is indisputable. Debating whether or not the picture of communication within relationships, particularly younger generation relationships looks different to how it did, say, ten years ago, would be a waste of time.  However, asking appropriate questions about the new way of communicating and attempting to understand the pros and cons of “the new way” is certainly a good idea.

Particularly within a youth and young adults culture, the idea that relationships happen face to face is a diminishing concept.  While I certainly and more interested in and lean more toward the technology based communication side than the average person, the reality is that most of my communication with my friends in the last 24 hours has been via social networking and other text messaging platforms.  The only familiar voice I have heard in the last 24 hours is that of my wife, yet I have had the equivalent of about 3 hours worth of conversation with at least 4 of my close friends. Can we suggest that because that communication happened ‘textually’, it is not valid?

A good friend from college, David Arendse, wrote something that really struck me, in an assignment recently.  He pointed out that “while these innovations seem to make our social lives more connected, in reality we have never felt so alone”.  This is a bold statement, and plays into the court of those who believes that the ‘modern way’ of communication (via twitter, facebook, BBM, whatsapp, mxit, and I believe a few people still use sms) had done a lot of damage to young people’s ability to relate to one another in a real social context.  These forms of communication have certainly contributed to young people growing up with little social skills, inability to handle conflict, insecurity and the like. We cannot deny that there are downsides to being part of the mobile generation.  Many young people, especially, hide their insecurities, fear and moral dilemmas behind their phones and engage in conversations and other activities via these social networks and text messaging platforms that they would never enter into in a face to face, public scenario.  It has been suggested that this generation is one which virtually says “you can touch my privates, but don’t touch my phone, because that is private”.

Having said that, we can also not deny that this form of communication is here, and it’s here to stay.  Sitting on the sideline complaining about the teenagers or young adults sitting at the restaurant or in a concert, movie or other event messaging friends on their phones, is not going to change the reality that this is how communication happens.  Rather, we (and by we, I refer to anyone who wants to be relevant – be it a church, youth ministry, social awareness organization or even a family) need to realize that if we don’t find a way of jumping on board, we’re going to be left behind.  I believe the way we can start becoming part of this communication evolution is to ask some questions.  Questions like

  • Is a relationship any less significant because the bulk of its communication happens online?
  • Does this form of communication have as many negative effects on people’s social skills as we think?
  • Are there some advantages to this communication beyond the obvious convenience factor?
  • Are we judging a new norm because we fear it’s power?  (Remember the opposition the Wright brothers experienced?)

In this vain, I think it may be relevant to point out that what started out as nothing more than some chats on twitter about 18 months ago, has evolved into a face to face relationship which I got to blog about  (see my previous blog on my discussion with 5FM DJ Grant Nash), and that I have a friend who is comfortable saying “Love you bud” on BBM, but I know would never be able to say it face to face because of his personality.  Are these not positive elements?

I don’t think it’s important to find answers to the questions above, nor the many other questions we may have, but rather to simply start asking the questions.

Communication has, is, and will continue to evolve. There is nothing we can do about that.  We can, however, do everything in our power to ensure that this communication becomes a positive, relationship-building experience within reasonable social boundaries.  The next question, then, is “HOW?”

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