"Oh how awful—like, how did you survive?!" one young adult expressed to me recently, "How did you communicate?" All I told him was that when I was in high school, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, instant messaging and cell phones didn't exist.
But he had a good question. How did anybody survive without social networking?
While throttling forward in your life, trying to keep up with everything, do you ever feel like you'd just like to sit down with maybe a glass of iced tea or a latte and just talk to someone—to connect with a live, breathing, speaking, in-the-flesh human being? If you do, you're not alone—and what you want is what God intended.
How helpful is electronic communication?
Research and studies show that although we "think" we're communicating more effectively through all our electronic gadgets and programs, we may not actually be.
During sessions in my practice as a professional counselor, I've clearly stated that, while in session, all portable electronic devices must be turned off. Why? Because otherwise there is a constant barrage of texts, e-mails and calls that "just have to" be answered—interfering with clear communication in the sessions.
Consequently, many today explain, "My husband and I"—or "My child and I," or "My friend and I"—"just don't communicate anymore. There is always an interruption of some kind just when we really start to talk." Some clients explain that they have trouble communicating with God because, as they state in terms like this: "I've never really understood what it means to talk to anyone face to face, much less to talk to God!"
A business owner told me this story: "I receive an inquiry from my website contact page. Then I follow up with an estimate via e-mail, receive approval, complete the job, send an invoice and receive payment —without ever having to even see or speak to the customer." How good is that—or how bad?
How God communicates
God is very real, and we human beings He created are very real too. But the businessman's and counseling clients' experiences made me stop to consider. Is our electronic media stealing the deep communication God intended for us?
Throughout the Bible, we see examples where people interacted with God personally. Abraham, the father of the faithful, talked personally with God (Genesis 17:1 Genesis 17:1And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be you perfect.
American King James Version×, 22). Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, talked with God face to face (Genesis 32:30 Genesis 32:30And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
American King James Version×). Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt, spoke with God "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11 Exodus 33:11And the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
American King James Version×).
Much later when the apostle John desired to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ, he wrote, "I hope to visit you and talk things over with you personally. Then we will be completely filled with joy" (2 John 12, God's Word Translation). God desires the same with us. It's good to know that when we pray we're personally talking to Him and that He is listening.
Technological failure to communicate deeply
So just how is interpersonal communication today being weakened by technology?
There are certain benefits to electronic media and social networking. Most of us use them on a daily basis, me included. However, research has long shown that the majority (55 percent) of our communication is nonverbal. Nonverbal communication—or body language—includes facial expression, gestures, eye contact and posture. Another 38 percent of communication is vocal tone, while only 7 percent is the actual meaning of the words.
E-mail and texting has no body language, nor does it convey tone of voice you experience in a face-to-face conversation. Texting, we find out, is effectively robbing today's younger generation of proper writing and spelling skills. Even advertising on some billboards now reflects the texting jargon.
Challenges may be caused by the use of texting and Facebook chat due to the rate by which questions are asked and topics are changed. Rapidly asking question after question is great for trying to learn a lot of different things about a person, but there are often never any deep conversations, especially since SMS-type messages only allow 160 characters.
How many times have you been affected by or involved in a serious communication breakdown that was able to be resolved by talking face to face?
Healthy communication how-tos
Young people often experience social detachment while engrossing themselves in electronic media. Sadly, parents sometimes give a handheld game to a child and state, "Now, go play somewhere, and be quiet. We'll talk later." Then, after "later" comes without any meaningful communication, one or the other at some point remarks, "We never talk, and this happens all the time!"
Psychologists and counselors through the ages have discussed the need we all have for interaction and communication to remain healthy. God made human beings with the deep need to communicate not only with Him as their Creator but with each other. So, how then can you build the habit of healthy communication with and without electronic media?
1. Make a conscious effort every day to have a real-life, face-to-face conversation with someone.
2. Step away from or turn off your device and talk with the person directly.
3. Don't "check in" on Facebook or other social media sites for one whole day—and see if the world has stopped.
4. Look for opportunities to reconnect with friends or colleagues in a face-to-face setting at a meal or over tea or coffee.
5. Realize that we all can have solid, God-based friendships with other people without ever using any social electronic media.
Remember, there is a time and place for texting or status updates. But every day is the time and many are the places for healthy face-to-face conversations. Talk to people and enjoy the body language, tone of voice and the meaning of their words—as God intended!