Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Text Messaging, God and Nonverbal Communication

Here's a rebuttal for all this social networking in which the much younger generation is engaged. Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University writes for The Wall Street Journal and what he says makes sense: "Why Gen-Y Johnny Can't Read Non-verbal Cues". He cites the writings of anthropologist Edward T. Hall. Years ago I read Hall and loved his insights and this was long before cell phones and laptops. Hall was relevant then, more so now.


"Back in 1959, anthropologist Edward T. Hall labeled these expressive human attributes The Silent
Language. Hall passed away last month in Santa Fe at age 95, but his writings on nonverbal communication deserve continued attention. He argued that body language, facial expressions and stock mannerisms function "in juxtaposition to words," imparting feelings, attitudes, reactions and judgments in a different register.

This is why, Hall explained, U.S. diplomats could enter a foreign country fully competent in the native language and yet still flounder from one miscommunication to another, having failed to decode the manners, gestures and subtle protocols that go along with words. And how could they, for the "silent language" is acquired through acculturation, not schooling. Not only is it unspoken; it is largely unconscious. The meanings that pass through it remain implicit, more felt than understood.

They are, however, operative. Much of our social and workplace lives runs on them. For Hall, breakdowns in nonverbal communication took place most damagingly in cross-cultural circumstances—for instance, federal workers dealing with Navajo Indians and misconstruing their basic conceptions of time. Within cultures, Hall assumed, people more or less "spoke" the same silent language." '

Bauerlein goes on to write, "They may no longer (speak a silent language), thanks to the avalanche of all-verbal communication. In Silicon Valley itself, as the Los Angeles Times reported last year, some companies have installed the "topless" meeting—in which not only laptops but iPhones and other tools are banned—to combat a new problem: "continuous partial attention." With a device close by, attendees at workplace meetings simply cannot keep their focus on the speaker. It's too easy to check email, stock quotes and Facebook. While a quick log-on may seem, to the user, a harmless break, others in the room receive it as a silent dismissal. It announces: "I'm not interested." So the tools must now remain at the door.

"Older employees might well accept such a ban, but younger ones might not understand it. Reading a text message in the middle of a conversation isn't a lapse to them—it's what you do. It has, they assume, no nonverbal meaning to anyone else. (Amazing, isn't it?)

"It does, of course, but how would they know it? We live in a culture where young people—outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another—are ever less likely to develop the "silent fluency" that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social settings, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom. As text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish."

I witnessed a texting episode that sums it all up. Everything Bauerlein writes about is true. I was in a large multi-generational group when one of the assembled was asked to give a prayer of thanksgiving. We folded our hands and looked downward. Briefly, during the prayer, I looked sideways and saw a young guest texting. In the middle of the prayer.

So, I'd say that even GOD himself/herself cannot get someone's full attention these days. I'd say, get thee to a mediation retreat and leave the cell phone at the door. Focus. Perhaps on GOD. If you feel like it. Or perhaps, focus on simple breathing and counting. There is existence beyond text messaging.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

I couldn't agree more.