“Is your texting language affecting your ability to communicate?” This was the question recently discussed on an early morning 702 radio program. As I listened, I thought that perhaps a related question might be, “Is your texting affecting your manners in communication?” I want to address this question in this article, for I maintain that the Bible is not silent on the matter. The frequent exhortations to “greet one another” and to “consider one another,” summed up in “love one another” do have something to add to this conversation. But first…
We live in what in many ways is the best of times. In numerous areas, technology has certainly made our lives “easier,” more comfortable, and even more efficient. To be so easily connected to others, irrespective of global location, is a wonderful blessing. Whereas 25 years ago a phone call to my family in the USA was astronomically expensive, and the turn-around time for a letter sent through the post was several weeks, now I can call for virtually free, can actually see the person to whom I am speaking, and in a moment can send and receive texts. Times are good indeed.
But every technological advancement has its liabilities. And when it comes to techno-communication, one of those is the loss of good manners. This is particularly the case when it comes to emails and with the use of various texting and instant messaging options.
Often when I receive a curt, and even rude, text I think to myself, “What’s happening?” Or, more precisely, “WhatsApp’ning?” What has happened to good manners? What’s up with WhatsApp?
Depending on the situation, I sometimes do not respond to messages that begin without a greeting. Messages that begin with an abrupt “Doug,” or ones that just jump in to the matter at hand, are sometimes ignored. The reason is that such a manner of communication is, well, bad manners. It is inappropriate. Such emails or messages read like an interruption, or as an impatient “Now, I just want to deal with this issue and I am not considering you at all.” Call it hypersensitive, if you like; I simply call it having been raised to respect good manners.
If you are like me, then you rarely turn off your cell phone, unless of course you are 30,000 feet in the air. And unless we are in a meeting or in a situation where we need to avoid interruptions, our phones are rarely on silent. In other words, most of us live a life of 24/7 connectivity. And that’s okay. What is not okay is for someone to abuse that connectivity in order to vent. Coward’s castles, even those fortified by computer chips, nevertheless remain the haven of the shameful. Further, it’s not ok to barge into anyone’s life without a proper greeting just because you can. As my mom taught me, there are lots of things that you can do that you may not do.
It seems as if long gone are the days when people phoned one another in order to discuss a matter. Long gone are the days when appointments are made via an actual conversation. Soon to be in the relics of history are those times when “menial” conversation took place, face to face. This is not all bad. Certainly technology has simplified and streamlined our lives, and efficiency has experienced a bolstered blessing. Nevertheless, I am concerned that such simplifying of communication carries the liability of a loss of dignity in how we communicate; a lack of treating others with dignity. Yes, this is a sanctity of life issue.
Communication requires time. An exchange is made. Are we profiting the other person in our WhatsApp culture or are we merely taking them, and their time, for granted? In other words, in our use of social media, are we treating the other person(s) with dignity?
I believe that, in most cases, the same rules should apply to techno-communication and instant messaging as should apply in face to face communication. For example, in both cases we should communicate looking the person in the eye. How can we do this via an electronic device? By greeting the person when we contact them. Rather than treating them simply as a receiver of information, show them respect by greeting them by name. The person on the other end of your device is not merely a dumping ground for your words; they are not beasts to be beckoned at your will; they are not creatures at your command. No, they are people made in the image of God. We must treat them like it.
With rare exceptions, it is generally considered rude to interrupt someone. One should seek permission to break into another’s conversation, or into their activity, and even into their solitude. To begin an email or text message with an immediate request (or command!) without a considerate greeting is just as rude as the five-year-old who jumps into a conversation between adults. In both cases, correction is called for.
Christians should be at the forefront of treating one another with respect. Good manners reflect good character; godly consideration reflects godly concern. And one way this is reflected is the often enjoined biblical behaviour to “greet one another.” When instant messaging ignores this simple, yet profound, exhortation we have every right to ask, “What’s up with WhatsApp?” And when you text this question to the offending party, make sure that you begin your message with something like, “Good day…”