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.