A Culture of Communication

One question that has always frustrated me is the one my mom and dad ask every so often, “Why don’t you just CALL the person, rather than text them?” It’s frustrating not because it’s a bad or ignorant question, but because I never really knew how to answer it. I always had an answer in the back of my mind, but I could never do a good job of articulating it.

Another thing I’ve had trouble articulating is why I’m opposed to “door knocking” as an RA, especially in regards to fundraising. To clarify quickly for non-RAs, “door knocking” is pretty much what it sounds like – you go up and down the floor, knocking on each door to tell the residents something. It could be about an upcoming program, or in many cases (especially with the Haiti earthquake), to fundraise. This practice has always bothered me, but like the question about texting over calling, I could never really explain WHY. I just knew it did.

Today though, I was thinking about this, and realized that the answer to both questions is pretty much the same. It’s a rude practice! I know this is kind of an odd conclusion, but bear with me for a bit. I will say that this conclusion doesn’t apply across the board; there are always situations where this is not the case. But I’ll come back to that later.

I guess the first thing to look at is how technology has shaped the culture of our generation. We are all about connections and information, because these are things we have rapid access to. Using my computer or my phone, I can easily keep up to date on the people I know (via Facebook, Twitter, blogs) and those I don’t know personally (via Twitter and blogs). I can easily access information, be it directions, movie/restaurant reviews, a drink recipe, or the answer to some random question. I can easily contact people via text messages, IM, or even video chat. And in the other direction, I can easily use these services to update people on my life, and be contacted by them.

We, as a generation, are very “plugged in”. There are varying degrees of this, of course. I’m fairly connected (I have Facebook, Twitter, a blog, an under-construction website, a smartphone, etc.), but there are people much more connected than I am. And there are people who are far less connected than I am. But for the most part, our generation is more connected than our parents’. But for all this connectivity, we also have control.

I can shut down my computer just as easily as I can fire up Google to do a search. I can turn off my phone (like I do at night) when I don’t want to use the connective capabilities it provides. For all this information and networking available quite literally AT my fingertips, I can choose to shut it all out. I can do it temporarily (by ignoring stuff for the duration of a TV show), longer-term (by shutting things down), or semi-permanently (by deactivating accounts).

I can, with very few exceptions, control how and when people can contact me. We access and disseminate information at OUR pace, not anybody else’s. That is a privilege our generation enjoys, and it’s afforded to us by this same technology. There’s a tacit understanding in our generation that people will contact you back at their leisure. I’ll comment on your blog, respond to your forum post, reply to your email, or return your text message when I get around to it. And that’s ok with you. That’s how our culture works. And once I’ve responded, I know you’ll then respond at YOUR leisure.

What I don’t like about “door knocking” and actually calling people is that these are remnants of an older generation’s communication style. When somebody calls you, or knocks on your door, they are DEMANDING your attention at that VERY moment. You can choose to ignore them, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are DEMANDING your attention. They expect an answer right away. It doesn’t fit into our culture, and it's rude.

There are times, of course, when these practices do make sense. If I’m expecting you, or there’s some information I need to get to/from you immediately, calling is appropriate. For example, I was getting ready to go pick up a friend from LAX earlier this week, when he texted saying that he found another ride. I didn’t look at the text right away, as I was getting stuff. And when he didn’t get a response from me, he called to let me know. In this case, he needed to get the info to me that I didn’t need to drive to LAX anymore, so the call was acceptable (and appreciated; I didn’t want to deal with traffic unnecessarily). But even in this case, he tried a method more in-line with our generation’s style first.

There are other reasons, of course, why phone calls are less desirable – phone conversations are not very private, it’s not always feasible to TAKE the phone call, etc. But I think the most important part (and the thing our generation understands tacitly) is that it’s just rude to demand their attention.

Door knocking in the dorms is a slightly different beast, because in-person communication is NOT something our generation shuns (despite what parents might think). Maybe it’s just somebody stopping by to say hi, but the fact remains that you may not be prepared to have a guest, or you may not have time to talk. It sucks, yes, but if I’m studying (it’s rare, but it happens!), I don’t want you coming by and demanding my presence. That’s selfish – you are taking away my ability to decide when it’s also convenient to me. And when you move away from a casual visit, towards fundraising, the problem gets compounded. You are demanding my presence, only to pressure me into donating money? I don’t care how good of a cause it’s for, that’s still rude. Slip a note under my door, and let me bring you money when I have time. Or catch me in the hallway, but ASK if I have a moment first. Don’t just assume.

Ok, so that’s kind of long. But I haven’t updated in a few weeks, so no complaining! I think this kind of stuff is really interesting. I want to write something later about different styles of communication facilitated by different technologies, but I’m waiting until I finish Infotopia by Cass Sunstein, since it also touches on these topics.


Anonymous said...

I hate phone calls. People ramble on and on, and it wastes my time. They're useful when you need to communicate a lot of info quickly, like directions or something similar. But I always prefer texting. And email is even better.

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