Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Text (Messaging) and Context

Here is a text message:

“I can’t believe you sent me flowers!”

Here are a few ways this message could be interpreted:

1. “They’re beautiful! I love you! I wasn’t ever really mad at you in the first place.”

2. “Do you really think you can get off that easily? This is a way bigger issue than some stupid flowers are going to resolve. You’re in a deeper hole now.”

3. “You embarrassed me at work. Why would you do that?”

4. “I’m surprised. You don’t seem like the kind of guy who’d send me flowers. I really had lower standards for you.”

5. “They’re ugly.”

If, as they say, 90% of communication in nonverbal, texting leaves a meager 10% to be interpreted and get stressed about. Even something as innocuous as “Thanks for the flowers” would have many of the same possible interpretations.

This context problem is most exaggerated with text messaging. Text messaging is basically instant messaging crossbred with cell phones. But subtract from IMing the "in-front-of-the-computer" context, and subtract from the cell phone the background noise context. These context clues are gone with text messaging; the texter could be anywhere (at a party, in the shower, on the road, out of range), distracted (talking with a friend, sleeping), or simply busy (being mad at you, recharging a dead battery, in a meeting, working).

Without context, much the meaning of the content is left wide open, as the flowers scenario shows. Even if the texter is feeling joy when she writes the text, the receiver may be experiencing a different fear or insecurity and so interpret her text as indignation.

Text messaging is a simple idea, but it could be the most complex form of communication that people are using today, simply for the lack of context it provides for any texting conversation. So I came up with a few good practices for communicating (and conveying context) in text messages. Please offer your own, if you think of any.

1. Being intentionally vague isn’t a good idea. Maybe you mean to be flirtatious, but it may just look like you’re avoiding the question. The more personal the communication the more important it is to be careful how you say it.

2. Use “lame” obvious cues like smiley faces and exclamation points to indicate the accurate emotion.

3. Consider the worst possible interpretation your words could have, or the worst scenario that could result from them.

4. Avoid subtlety, sarcasm or otherwise. Exaggeration can even be difficult.

5. Don’t be impulsive. Consider your words. (This is a good rule for any sort of communication.)

6. Make the implicit explicit.

7. Don’t have conversations via text messaging. This opens the door for every sort of problem.

8. Use texts to communicate information, not feelings. (“Just the facts, ma’am.”) If it's getting personal, personalize it with a phone call or even in person!

There are lots of other rules and dynamics that could be explored, but hopefully this will help you think about it a bit and guard your friendships and relationships from unnecessary harm.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Child Vision

I don't know what sparked this memory but it re-surfaced a couple of days ago. Disclaimer: I have no experience raising children.

This summer while waiting in the doctor's office (to get the good ol physical for teaching) the sirens in the city went off. When I pulled in the sky was radically pink sky and now morphed into a teal monster. Rain, lightning, and of course some tornado watches and warnings.

So me and all the other patients in the waiting room gathered in the back hall with the doctor's and nurses. I was comforted to be around physicians in a dangerous situation but less than thrilled to be sharing tight space with a bevy of germs!

At first it was kinda fun. We all made small talk and joked.
After about 30 minutes people were on their cell phones giving updates.
After about 45 minutes people were frustrated, uncomfrotable, and annoyed.

My brother was waiting for me back at the apartment. We had some plans (something about us driving together up to Michigan so he could get married, nothing big!) but he was of course easygoing and chilled.

What kept me calm was the little 3 year old sitting across from me on the floor in the hallway. He found the situation to be absolutely amazing. All the new people, lights, nooks and crannies in the hallway.

His mom was not as entertained. I'm sure she was stressed and overworked. Finally she sat him down and said, "look around you. Stop and look around you. Do you see anyone else acting that way? Is anyone else climbing all over everything in sight?"

I thought, "Is anyone else 3 years old?"
I thought, "Does anyone have so much joy as your son in this inconvenience?"

Often we correct children not because they aren't acting right but because they aren't acting like us. Maybe they should be correcting us. Maybe we should see like them.

Monday, April 21, 2008

TV Turnoff Week

Here's a challenge, no T.V. for a week!

If you can't imagine doing forgoing The Office, Sportscenter, American Idol, the NBA playoffs or some D.I.Y TLC show than try one or two days.

Good luck, hope to hear some people are going for it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

no habla Espanol

I'm teaching Spanish today. I know barely any Spanish except for some greetings and naughty words.

I really enjoy subbing. The day is well structured, the kids are great, the pay is surprisingly good, and it is a new challenge every day.

But this is what I don't like about subbing. As a substitute teacher your authority comes via threats. For instance:

get this work done or else it's homework
be quiet or else your teacher will be angry
listen to me or else you will go to the Principal's office
be respectful or else you don't have recess today

I don't see the benefit of using these tactics. Sure, it gets the kids to respond but any relationship built on threats resorts to fear not love. Permanent teachers have the advantage of seeing the kids every day and building relationships to nurture and mentor them. I on the other hand do not.

So what do I do? Well, in the short time I have with them I try to create as deep of a relationship as possible. How?

I call out their names for attendance and ask them how they want to be called.
I tell them about where I am at in life.
I share a story maybe from the news.
Better yet I share them a story from my own life that is connected to their class. Like....

How most of my Spanish is from movies I've watched and by the way these are my five favorite movies.
Or I don't know Spanish but it would have been helpful when I went to Venezuela to do a mission trip.
Or I know some Spanish by watching a lot of soccer which is one of my passions.

I try to connect my life with their life. I try to make a friendship and than teach.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

My Team is Powerful!

I actually have a lot of things brewing in my mind but not a lot of time to post. So this will be short and pithy and an echo of an earlier post.

Last night a Cubs fan said to me when finding out I am a Pirate fan, "oh, we have you next. You better look out, we are going to take you out."

I couldn't help but notice the personal pronouns, we and you.

It wasn't simply this girl saying that her team was going to beat my team. But in a sick sense it was her taking dominion over me. She was exerting power over me by claiming the Cubs were better than the Pirates (which is hard to argue otherwise).

I realized that our sports teams are really exercises of our power. That is why we love it when our team wins, because it vicariously gives us power and a sense of accomplishment. Like we have conquered somebody else and achieved a level of status in the world.

I think if Jesus was a baseball team he would be in last place.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Well of Beer

At a place called Beer, the Lord provided a well for his people.

There the Israelites sang this song: "Spring up, O well! Yes, sing its praises!"

Numbers 21:17

Saturday, April 12, 2008

That's the technology talking.

We’d call anyone stupid who used a saw for a can opener, or a pickaxe as a nutcracker. No, using the right tool for the task helps lower the risk of hurting ourselves (or others). The stupidity of these simple examples is plain to us because these tools are so low-tech, but we still learned these facts at one point or another. With high-tech tools though, the tasks they accomplish are much more complex, but likewise their purposes are much harder to discern.

Blogs. Blackberrys. Facebook messages. E-mail. Cell phones. Wall posts. Text messages. Of these, the only one I’ve not used is a Blackberry. In the past two years, every other mobile device and social networking tool has been in my relational toolbox. The ways to communicate keep multiplying. Staying connected is easier than ever.

I don’t need to tell you though that for all these tools, we’re not building better relationships. In high school, I was IMing with this one girl in my group of friends. I’d never really known someone to be so into other people’s lives and so willing to talk about them. During one online chat, I told her bluntly, “You’re a gossip queen.” Looking back, I can hardly believe I was so unkind. Who cares if it was true . . . what was I thinking?

This is sort of like the morning after being drunk. You remember enough of what you said last night that you have to call to apologize. You blame it of course on having too much beer. But in this case, the insulated feeling created by telecommunications is a false sense of security and the relationship suffers for it. "Baby, it was the technology talking! Please forgive me." Damage done.

I’ve found these new communication tools to be poor at building meaningful, healthy relationships with anyone. Maybe two years ago, I was discussing with a friend via email issues we both care about passionately. But over time, I sensed it slowly deteriorating, my own feelings toward him growing irritable, hurt, and even angry. It had never been like that before, when we’d talked face-to-face. What changed?

I’m not lamenting the poor quality of these tools though (or you could call use the word technology). In fact, I don’t think that these tools are poor quality. Rather, I think it’s user error. That is, I’ve used these tools poorly, inebriated with high-technology. As a kid, I always tried to be innovative and use an old tool in a creative way. (If you’ve ever watched The Red Green Show, they do this best.)

Can we really compare cell phones to pickaxes or e-mails to handsaws? Well, all of them are different types of technology humans use to accomplish various tasks. With communication tools, the relational element to them adds near infinite complexity alone. But they are still tools used for communication.

And while the purpose of a pickaxe seems pretty intuitive, it’s only because we’ve learned it. In the same way, the purpose of these high-tech communication tools will only become apparent if we really give them some thought. After that, they’re purposes might seem intuitive as well.

I'm only exploring the answers when it comes to these gadgets. I’ve tried to use them to accomplish certain tasks and relationships have suffered and bridges have burned because of it. Just like being the fool using a pickaxe for a peanut, I don’t want to look stupid or get hurt (or hurt others) just because I didn’t know what I was doing with the tool in my hand. Better than that, I won't have to call the next day to blame it on being technologically impaired.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Take A Minute

You have a lot of things you could, should, want, need to do.

Right now you are reading my blog.


Think about somebody close in your life you will talk to today.

Put the laptop down or push back from the computer monitor.

Take 60 seconds. That's right a full minute! You will have several more of these today. Take that minute and pray for that somebody.

That wasn't hard was it?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Are you watching Me?

Sometimes I just feel obligated to post something. This is one of those times! So we'll see where this goes.

I tend to be a private person over the Internet so I'm going to step outside and share where I am, what I'm doing. Just in case you are desperate to spy on me.

I'm reading a lot about Spirituality and Galatians

I'm listening to Steven Delopolous and Umbrellas

I spend time with friends here, here, and here

And of course here

I'm watching Dan Lugo

I'm loving the weather

I'm optimistic

I love playing here

You can stalk me here

That didn't take too long.... :)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

There's a Cubs shaped Hole in all of Us!

Hi, I’m Rick, another roommate of Mike’s taking over his blog. Apparently I need to be careful what I say around him, because yesterday I just happened to make what I thought was a fairly clever and witty observation, and now he is forcing (yes, forcing!) me to post said observation on this blog.

So without further ado, here is the thought I had. Mike and I were watching a little bit of baseball on Monday (the REAL opening day) and we got to talking about annoying sports fans (specifically certain cubs fans that we know, my goodness can they ever be insufferable…) Anyway, I made the comment to Mike that I think Christians can be some of the worst (read: most annoying) sports fans in the history of sporstfandom. Allow me to unpack that (I had a communications professor in undergrad who used the word unpack at least once every class, it was annoying, and now I cannot escape the word…but I digress.)

Christians, at least in the evangelical tradition in the United States, are taught that their belief system is correct (and everyone else’s is wrong) and that it is their God-mandated duty to “convert” (read: tell everyone else how wrong they are) the masses (read: godless heathens.) That is a jaded, cynical overgeneralization to be sure, but stay with me. This zeal creates annoying sports fans b/c they have that same “evangelistic” mindset. That is to say, their sports team is the greatest (God’s team, even?) and yours is clearly inferior (and possibly a spawn of Satan) and you need to “see the light” and come over to their side (which in Chicago is the North Side.)

So to that I say, BOO!

And go Tigers!

And, for Mike, go Pirates!

And to the Cubs, just go (away!)

Mike's Disclaimer** Rick's doesn't really hate the Cubs that much but we do share the annoyance of some Cub's fans "sportsfandom."
For the Tigers I also say "go" and for the Pirates I say, "Can we end the season now so they finally have a winning season!"