Are Texting & Email Responsible For The Death Of Clear Communication?

Would a person from the 21st century be able to communicate with a knight from medieval times?

Ten thousand years ago when I was a just a lad I thought it would be cool to have been a knight. The idea of wearing armor, carrying a sword and jousting appealed to me.

I mentioned this to a substitute history teacher and they tried to speak to me in Old English and told me that if I couldn’t understand the language I would have a hard time communicating and that I would probably make a poor knight.

Naturally I told him he couldn’t get away with insulting my honor so he challenged me to a duel. Armed with a steel trash can lid and a mop I wiped the floor with him and made him repent of his evil ways.

That Last Part Might Be An Exaggeration

It is possible the last part didn’t happen quite like that but none of that really matters because today we are talking about whether the proliferation of text message and email has seriously wounded and or killed clear communication.

Several recent personal experiences and stories from friends have begun to make me wonder if the wonder of technology is making everyone wonder what the hell she/he meant with that last remark.

Full disclosure: I am a heavy user of text messages and email.  I use both methods multiple times throughout the day to communicate with various people.

Sometimes if I am downstairs and family members are upstairs instead of walking up or calling out I’ll shoot them a text. I’ll let you decide whether that is convenient or lazy.

But that is not really what I am thinking of here.

Rather I am thinking about some of the misunderstandings I have had with people and or moments of confusion that were caused during these exchanges.

Are Texting & Email Responsible For The Death Of Clear Communication?

Sarcasm and attempts at humor don’t always play well with text. When you can’t see a person’s face or hear their voice it is easy to misunderstand what they were trying to say.

But arguments don’t start just because someone was trying to be funny or sarcastic. Sometimes they happen because the five words we used to

One of my favorite examples of how text/email can sometimes cause or add to confusion is tied into delayed delivery.

That is when technical issues keep your text/email from showing up on a timely basis leading the other person to wonder if you didn’t take their note seriously.

I can think of a few minor disagreements that turned into bigger issues because of this.

A friend of mine shared a story about how he and his wife had a major fight at home and tried to make up at work via email.  Since they worked in an open office they couldn’t talk it out on the phone and apparently it was important enough to them to not wait until they got home.

Anyway he told me about how his wife sent him a detailed email about why she was upset and how he had hurt her feelings. He sent her an apology but for some reason the email got hung up for several hours.

As time passed she felt like he was ignoring her and that made her even angrier. She called him at the office and chewed him out and every time he tried to tell her he had responded she felt like he was lying to cover his butt.

Eventually she got his email and the time stamp proved that he had been truthful yet it didn’t erase what had taken place before.

The Bigger Problem/Death Of The Telephone

Delayed delivery doesn’t concern me as much as the general misunderstanding that sometimes comes with text. The time stamp usually makes it easy to prove you responded/replied in a timely fashion.

It is the miscommunication that concerns me most and is tied into one of my own pet peeves.

It makes me crazy to exchange 27 text/emails when a two minute conversation will answer all questions and eliminate any misunderstanding.

Sometimes when I think about this I remember the conversation I had so long ago with the substitute teacher and am sorry I didn’t really appreciate what he was trying to teach me.

That medieval knight and I might have figured out how to communicate clearly in spite of the challenges we faced but only if we took a moment to open the visors on our helmets and made eye contact.

But if we didn’t there is a good chance we might not have understood each other and I would have been forced to unhorse him and make yield. (You didn’t really think I was going to be the one to yield now did ya, this is my fantasy. 😉

Anyhoo, some of my friends tell me they think the death of the telephone is imminent but I don’t think we are there yet. It is still too valuable and too many people will continue to use it for business and pleasure.

Facetiming, Skyping and Google Hangouts won’t replace it either because of simple vanity. Let’s face it some times you won’t be prepared or willing to speak on camera because of a bad hair day, pajamas or any number of other reasons.

How about you? What do you think? Do you agree/disagree?

Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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  1. Brandon Billinger October 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    It is interesting how communication has evolved from snail mail to email to text messages. The immediacy that has come with that is what is most annoying with communication. I can’t count the times that co-workers have come to me not 30 seconds after emailing me asking me if they got the email, or emailing me to tell me that they are going to send an email.

  2. Stan Faryna October 15, 2014 at 5:48 am


    FYI, you can skype with the camera off. Just sayin’

    Unfortunately, expedience and speed of communications paired with our want for time and a greater efficiency of words (or characters) seems to correlate to increasing ineffectiveness of the same. Worse, intentions do not necessarily correlate with mastery of style or tone – not to mention that some people think that adding a j/k at the end of poorly expressed ideas makes everything all right. Really? What.

    Those same people never read Freud and not even a reader that mentioned Freud in careless passing. j/k

    Nor is honesty, alone, the best thing. Truth without beauty, goodness and unity is incomplete and as dangerous as beauty without the same complements.

    Now you say, word, and I’ll heart you in a thoughtless retweet.

    • Josh October 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      @faryna:disqus Eloquent, insightful and pointed. I often wonder how many times emoji or a J/K fail to convey the true intent of the author.

      Skype without the camera makes me think about Dorothy talking to the wizard. One person thinks they are engaged with a mighty being not knowing they are no different or more powerful than the other.

      • Stan Faryna October 16, 2014 at 9:37 am

        The only value of Skype (as opposed to a phone call) is that it’s free. And, yeah, if it’s business and they want to use Skype without video, I get suspicious that they don’t got it going on.

  3. Jens-Petter Berget October 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Very interesting story, and you certainly got a point. I’m a heavy user of text messages and email as well, and I do my best to be brief when I communicate using text and email. But, I have discovered that when other people are brief, sometimes I think that they’ll have a negative tone. I know that it’s just me, but I find it a lot harder to look behind the words when being brief.

  4. Jeri Darr October 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    I could not agree more Josh. I think the collective “we” have been lulled into complacency and have really fooled ourselves into thinking that how we communicate in person is easily replicated in a text message. As a purveyor of fine sarcasm, I cannot tell you how many times the wires cross and someone ends up hurt. Great article

    • Josh October 14, 2014 at 7:52 am

      @jeridarr:disqus People like to do what is easy and trying to get them to change is often more about fighting inertia than anything else. We definitely see complacency playing a role in this. But I have had too many unnecessary disagreements not to push back. It is why I try to call about the important stuff.

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