Does the means effect the message? Will texting something to a friend or colleague have a different effect than picking up the phone or talking in person? In this age of instant communication is there a “right way” and a “wrong way” to communicate?
FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, and texting have made it possible to convey more messages more quickly to individuals as well as larger groups, but is that really a good thing?
“It seems that people fall into one of two camps,” says Peter Crist, a psychiatrist and specialist in how people communicate. “They either discuss these new means of communication with an almost mystical quality, as if it’s the greatest thing ever invented, or they are moralistic — it will be the ruination of our children.”
In fact, text, Twitter, Facebook, and even the telephone are neither good nor bad, he explains.
They are merely tools that we use to help us communicate, and like any tool, it works best when we choose the correct one for the job.
Crist a board-certified psychiatrist presented “Text, Phone or Talk: What Really Works?” at a seminar sponsored by the American College of Orgonomy on Saturday, October 3.
“From as early as I can remember I was interested in what goes on between people,” says Crist. “I think that’s what led me into psychiatry.” As a freshman biology student he first became acquainted with orgonomy, which led him to eventually becoming a medical orgonomist.
Orgonomy has been defined as “the science of the orgone energy, the cosmic life energy.”
Crist graduated from UCLA in 1972 with a bachelor’s in zoology. He received his M.D. from UCLA in 1977.
He is board certified in psychiatry, internal medicine, and medical orgonomy, and sees patients ranging from infants to adults as well as couples and families in his private practice in Stockton.
Crist also has a business consulting practice, Ergonexus, near Ringoes, providing character assessment of executive candidates, corporate culture evaluations and advice on improving interpersonal communication.
According to Crist, throughout history there have really been only three great advances in communication: speech, writing, and the telephone. “Everything else is just a derivative of these three forms,” he says.
While we all have a need to communicate with others in some form, if we choose the wrong format for the message we may find ourselves spending more time attempting to communicate while feeling less satisfied.
Text. “Texting can be more addictive than cigarette smoking,” says Crist, but its brevity and the tendency to use abbreviations makes it one of the least reliable ways to convey complex or emotional messages.
That doesn’t mean, however, that texting has no place in communication. “Texting is good for verifying facts, ‘Are we meeting at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.?’ for example,” he explains.
Texting however, can be inappropriate when a person allows it to keep him or her from actually getting together with others. It is also a very imprecise way in which to convey more complex messages. “I had one client who brought his text messages from his girlfriend to me to interpret,” says Crist.
Twitter. The latest craze in instant communication, says Crist, is “just a more public form of texting.” The problem is that it often helps to blur the line between public and private communication. “Young people are more impulsive and Twitter allows them to declare something publicly without waiting to make sure that it is really something that they want to declare.”
Twitter, with its limit of 140 characters, actually harks back to the era of the telegraph. When people paid for a telegram by the character it was important to hone a message to its bare essentials. That’s not necessarily bad, however. “Ernest Hemingway was praised for his telegraphic style of writing,” he mentions.
E-mail. While E-mail allows the writer more space, it still has many of the hazards of any other written form of communication — it does not allow the person who receives the message to interpret verbal or visual clues such as inflection, volume, and eye contact.
That means that while E-mail is an excellent way to convey facts, it can still lead to misunderstandings when attempting to convey complex emotional concepts. While certainly many great writers have expressed emotion beautifully through the written word, the average person is not Shakespeare or Mark Twain. And while many writers resort to smiley faces made with punctuation marks to convey their emotions — known as emoticons — Crist dismisses them. “They are funny, but they don’t work.”
Often, we E-mail out of a mistaken idea that it is quicker than a telephone call.
“If you find yourself writing more than two iterations of a message to clarify something, pick up the phone,” says Crist.
It is possible to develop a relationship with another person through E-mail, he says. “Before E-mail we had letters. People did develop significant relationships strictly through letters, but it does have its limitations.
You have to be more patient,” he says. Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning are famous for a courtship that was carried on exclusively through letters.
Telephone. For more than 100 years the telephone has been the most significant means of communication. “It’s very good if you need to communication urgently in real time,” says Crist.
It also allows both people involved in the communication to send and receive verbal cues.
There is much less chance of mistaking a humorous phrase for something said with anger or sarcasm on the telephone than it is to pick up that subtle difference in any written communication.
But while it is far more efficient than other means of communication at a distance, it still has its limitations.
Person-to-Person. The oldest form of communication may still be the easiest. “If we need to work out an emotional relationship we must have personal contact,” he says.