I think I may have missed my generation by quite a lot on our modes of communication. More and more, people in our demographic (under 30, in particular) are reverting to IM and text messaging for just about all communication. I admit this really surprises me…and it’s put me in more than one rather awkward situation.
Sure, I use IM to chat with people about this and that, or even to send a quick hello or some time-sensitive message that can’t wait until I have a free minute to call (or even email) someone. It’s fun, it’s fine, but if I have to get up and leave the room in the middle of a “conversation,” I don’t consider it a big deal. (Imagine if I just got up and left mid-conversation in person, or even on the phone! But somehow IM is different. We’re separate enough that it’s more like really fast email.) And texting is even more casual, at least in my book. I text a quick message when I don’t have time for a full phone conversation, or when I need someone’s address (it’s easier to see it in writing). I’ll even use a text message to let a bunch of people know that I’m attending such-and-such an event this evening, and anyone is welcome to join. It’s a lot easier than making 15 phone calls.
But recently I’ve found myself involved in all sorts of “serious” conversations via both IM and text, and this surprises me. Have we moved so far from the old-fashioned face-to-face mode of communication? Take this for example: I think I got asked out to coffee by instant messenger a while back. Honestly, I didn’t realize it was happening till I reflected later (hours after the “conversation”), “Gosh, I think that guy asked me out.” To this day I’m not really sure; the fellow in question hasn’t talked to me in ages, though, so I probably blew him off without even realizing it. This saddens me. Because he’s a nice guy, and if he’d had the guts to call…or even approach me in person, I probably would have gone out with him, at least once.
A little better (but not much) are the date requests via text. At least they’re more direct; but there’s still that distance, and it puts a girl in the awkward position of not knowing what method to use to respond. Especially if she’s got to say “no.” Do I text “No” and try to explain myself in 25 words or fewer? Do I make a mountain out of a molehill and call him back…to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? Do I ignore the question altogether and wait for him to bring it up again, hopefully in a more direct way?
I genuinely, I would say even deeply, appreciate the guys who are willing to put themselves on the line a little bit and pick up the phone and say, “Hey, how about a date this week?” There’s something really manly in that, and even though the conversation’s bound to be a little awkward, any guy who will do that has my automatic respect. Even if I have to refuse. Besides, it allows me (the girl) the dignity of a direct, polite refusal, within which I can explain my own intentions.
Aside from dates, there are the other “serious” conversations I’ve found myself suddenly caught up in, especially on IM, ranging from philosophical debates to discussions of literature, theology, or politics. There’s so much to say, it becomes impossible to read everything the other person taps into his screen, and you know they’re not reading everything you write, either. Add in the difficulties of typos, poor grammar, what have you, and a “serious” conversation becomes faintly ridiculous if not out-right annoying. Want to talk about C. S. Lewis? Step into my office, pull up a chair. Write me a letter, send me an email, give me a call, but don’t IM me about it. And please, whatever else you may do, don’t text me. I’ll develop carpal tunnel trying to express myself using nothing but my thumbs.
But what are your two cents, dear reader(s)? Do you prefer IM and text to other, more direct, modes of communication, or have you run into frustrating situations with them also? I’m interested to hear your take(s) on the pros and cons.