Rev. Christy Thomas: True communication takes more than 140 characters

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Nick Bilton, young “guru” on the digital age, offered a recent rant in The New York Times about excess text messages, especially ones that say things like “thank you.”Bilton hates wasting even one extra minute on any communication medium that does not serve his immediate purpose. He finds phone calls and voice mail particularly offensive, writing:

My father learned this lesson last year after leaving me a dozen voice mail messages, none of which I listened to. Exasperated, he called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. “Why are you leaving him voice mails?” my sister asked. “No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him.”

No one listens to voice mail? Really? Hmmm. Later in the column, this young man indicates he communicates with his mother by Twitter.

OK, let’s talk about Twitter: You get up to 140 characters per tweet, or post. I have a Twitter account — should you wish to become one my many followers (note: sarcasm present), feel free. My Twitter name: the unoriginal @christythomas.

Last fall, I participated in an “in-depth conversation” about a critical issue using a tweetchat medium — which meant a 140-character limit.

The sentence above contains precisely 140 characters. It took me 10 minutes to edit it to that exact length, an interesting waste of time.

The “in-depth conversation” offered surface cliches and unsupported statements, with no nuance or explanation. It was difficult to follow as people had to respond to previous statements with the @ symbol to accurately reference tweets several lines and thought-leaps away.

More, because, of course, they found their own thoughts so profound, they also needed to hashtag (#) them to other places so their followers would not miss a word.

To say I found this tweetchat unsatisfactory would be an understatement.

Now, the oh-so-put-uponBilton’s quote above about his father’s many phone calls contains 303 characters. That’s twice the space offered to criticize his dad as he spends communicating with his mother through each tweet.

This is progress?

I am no Luddite and enjoy the electronic world. I was one of the first users of personal computers, expensive as they were.

My typing has always been both fast and riddled with mistakes. To quickly fix errors in my documents without the laborious process of painting with Liquid Paper and erasing carbon copies seemed utterly miraculous to me.

I also think e-mail and texting can be better ways to communicate than the telephone. The act of writing our thoughts means we can rewrite as necessary. We can also reply when most convenient. No need to jump when the phone rings and be at the mercy of the schedule of others.

All this helps bring about more gracious and thoughtful discourse.

E-mail, at its best, serves as a way to embrace again the art of letter writing. Through e-mails, we may keep a journal of our lives and loves, just as handwritten letters did for generations.

After my mother died in 2010, I discovered a treasure trove of copies of letters she had written to her family over a period of 60 years. I saw riches and nuances I would have never known without them. She poured out her soul in the written word. Conversations long forgotten suddenly came alive again.

What would the world’s great literature and religion be without those who took time to write their thoughts? How much we owe both to them and to the labors of those whose lives were dedicated to carefully and accurately make copies of such things!

Real communication takes time, energy, thoughtfulness and willingness to enter into the world of another. It is also fraught with problems, is open to misinterpretation, and makes the writer vulnerable to attack.

Mostly, it builds bridges when we are willing to take the time to listen. However, if even a “thank you” text is a source of irritation, I do wonder where we are headed next.

P.S.: FYI — there are 3,913 characters in this column!

THE REV. CHRISTY THOMAS is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum. She can be reached at 940-482-3482 or christy@krumumc.org .

 


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