Should I Call You? Text You? Facebook Message? Eh, Forget It.

I read with interest this blog post about people who do not do e-mail:

In our recent conversation, [my friend] said that she find writing emails very uncomfortable. When she opens a newsy email, she feels paralyzed, and she is utterly unable to respond. Another friend expressed a very similar response to long newsy emails. She said they make her feel completely frozen and she can’t think of anything to write in response.

…This email conundrum reminded me of our two sons, neither of whom live near us. One son loves to talk on the telephone or by Skype, and the other son hates those two means of communication. Our second son blogs and sends emails, so we are in touch with him, but he has never liked talking on the phone to us or to his friends.

The proliferation of social media and technology makes ministry (and life in general) easier and more complicated at the same time. It’s fantastic to address a quick issue with a text message exchange. I receive lovely e-mails from church members, opening up about pastoral stuff they would never say face to face.

My general rule is that I rarely “downgrade” my responses. If someone calls me, I don’t send a text message in response. Occasionally, if it’s truly a quick answer, or time sensitive and all I have time for is a text (e.g. kid bedtime), I will and be done with it. But I have also regretted it a couple of times, when I failed to discern that there was an emotional need there, underneath the ministry question. The person felt dismissed by the text. In fact, we may need to “upgrade” the response (answering e-mail with a phone call, answer phone with face to face) in order to model good communication skills and get to the heart of the matter.

Moving beyond ministry, if we have faraway friends and family we want to keep in touch with, we should make an effort to learn what their preferred medium is. Sort of like love languages. We can’t always honor their preferences, and each of us has our own preferred modes of communication. But taking their own comfort and preferences into account is the hospitable thing to do.

I take a three-day tech Sabbath from social media every week. My mother really doesn’t like it because she likes knowing what’s going on in my life. This puzzled me at first—why don’t you just call or text if you want to know what’s going on? Now I make an effort to keep in touch with her in other ways during that time. When I was in Minnesota I sent her a daily e-mail update, which was good for me (gave me a chance to look back on my day) and for both of us (I enjoyed getting her responses, which shared deeper info than she puts on Facebook).

I recently asked folks on Facebook whether phone conversations are on their way out. Many people admitted that they don’t like the phone or use it much anymore. I sometimes feel awkward on the phone, particularly when it comes to ending the conversation. (Have I kept them too long? Am I getting off too abruptly?) But on balance, it’s a positive in my book. There is no substitute for hearing the other person’s voice. By contrast, a friend of mine says her college-age daughter will have long conversations with her significant other via text. It slows them down, she says. It allows them to say things that they would find it harder to say face to face. As a writer, I appreciate that the written word has this power. (I also know that that power, combined with anonymity/physical distance, can provide a means of harming others. It happened to me just this week, in fact.)

Then there’s Google+. I really like the way it works, and often feel completely ‘done’ with Facebook. Except that I have dear friends there. But it depends on how you understand the purpose of social media. If it’s a way of keeping in touch with loved ones, then you will keep doing it. If it’s a means of recreation and conversation—a cocktail party, if you will—you can have a more “bloom where you’re planted” mentality.

I know I will not keep up with both long-term. So I think about whether it makes sense to go with Google+, cancel or suspend use of my Facebook account, and keep up with my closest FB friends in other ways. One of the complications of this technology is that the idea of “seasons of friendship” is becoming obsolete—the idea that a friend is a friend in a particular time and place and maybe not forever. With social media, you need never lose touch again!

I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Then again, long-time friendships are precious.

What do you think about all this?

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6 thoughts on “Should I Call You? Text You? Facebook Message? Eh, Forget It.

  1. Elana Abernathy Wohrstein says:

    I’ve been contemplating these very issues for a few years now. As a friend of yours from High School, who enjoys “hearing” what is going on in your life, your perspective, I am grateful for Facebook. Though I admit even with FB, I joined only after I was married to get access to pictures people had taken at my wedding, and until very recently read the newsfeed to find out what others were up to but did not contribute. I’ve contemplated a blog or a weekly email to my nearest friends and family to keep in touch…but that seemed like it would only be satisfying if others responded and there was no guarantee that they would. Is a “seasons of friendship” perspective more natural? To simply live in the moment with those that currently surround us? That sounds healthy, that if we aren’t going to try very hard to maintain friendships we don’t deserve to keep them. Almost as if the term “fair weather friend” can now be replaced with “facebook friend”. But it also sounds lonely. It think it’s important to ask these very good questions, but I think ultimately the answer is FB is a trend, to eventually be replaced, but by what? Now that we are so addicted to the (sometimes false) sense of immediate connection, if FB or the entire social media trend fades, will we suddenly feel emotionally isolated? I wonder. I wonder what it would lead to? Maybe more face to face friendships? Maybe not. Social Media is such a cultural monster because it fills a need. So if you decide to ditch FB more or less…maybe you could just throw it a bone every now and then? Your input would be missed in my newsfeed. (or expect to be followed…perhaps “where my thought leader goes, so shall I”? You may be the new shepherd for the digital age. Best, Elana

  2. Rachel Heslin says:

    I actually do believe that the concept of “seasons of friendship” is still valid. What I love about Facebook is it allows me to stay in touch with people who are NOT currently my absolute bestest friends in the world, both to respect the place they might have held in my life as a whole, and because there may come a time when an old acquaintance may become a needed friend. The threads woven by small contacts can become the foundation of a richer fabric.

    • MaryAnn says:

      I think G+ excels at this as a platform, more than Facebook. You can sort people into circles and manage what kind of contact you have with them and when.

      • Rachel says:

        Yes, the circle-sorting is one of my favorite parts of G+. Now, to incorporate SMS posting abilities and get the rest of my friends on it….

  3. Mamala says:

    I dramatically stated a few weeks ago when Google + came on the scene that I was not deactivating my FB account, but that I was done with it. And then, I found an app that makes it very easy to post to Google+ and FB at the same time, so I pretty much do that. I won’t ever just go back to FB and post, though, but I do find myself going there to read about my “friends” that haven’t made the move to Google +. Being a person who hates goodbyes, I love social media. And you are right. I feel cut off when you take your tech weekends off, but have always hated to intrude on the busy young families and activities of my adult children. Guess I should get over that.

  4. Jan E. Lorah says:

    As usual, well-stated, MaryAnn. A few responses:
    I would miss your commentary on FB if you leave. It is always something I look forward to reading; and believe it or not, as I read I hear your voice in my head… so it is a good substitute for the time we would certainly not share if not for FB.
    I have personally experienced, and been greatly rewarded by, re-connection w/ dear friends through FB. One in particular has re-entered my life and filled the gap created so many years ago when we went our separate ways. True, it could have happened w/o FB, but the “friends for a season” concept might have remained w/o that connection.
    I do find phone conversations often too difficult to end — but that is overshadowed by the excitement of actually hearing the voice of a loved one when lonely; and texting has it’s perfect place… as does e-mailing. I hear from some of my former clients through email and FB. So… for now, I’m not ready to give any of these forms of communication up. 🙂

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