Is Technology Making Us Cowards?

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Sometimes, there’s just no need to have a full-fledge conversation with friends, so you send them a text — a short message to let them know you’re thinking about them, that you’re running late, or that you want to meet up later. But text messages all too easily open up the doors for cop-outs. It’s a lot easier to break bad news to your buddy through a text than it is to actually call him or her or talk face to face.

Sadly, for as much as technology enhances conversation, it also stifles it.

Now people are using a new technology called Skydial to communicate, or not. The New York Times reports that more than 200,000 people have used the service, which lets users call someone’s voice mail directly without having to worry about the person picking up. Some are using the service to call in sick from work. Others have used it to break up with their significant other, calling it a happy medium that falls somewhere in between texting and calling. News of this new technology makes me wonder: Has it really come to the point where we can’t face the reality of having difficult conversations?

The New York Times reports:

Unlike text messaging or e-mailing, James Katz, head of the center for mobile communications studies at Rutgers University, said, telephone communiqués had been seen as requiring a sacrifice of time and energy and a higher level of commitment on the part of the communicator. Not anymore.

Missed or indirect communication can often actually be preferable, Mr. Katz said. “You pretend to be communicating, when you’re actually stifling communication,” he said.

Slydial may turn out to be just a fad. Still, Mr. Katz understands why people may be tempted to use it.

“A phone conversation is like wildfire — you don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said.

True, phone conversations can be unpredictable, but they’re also so much more revealing than texts or online chats. You can hear the other person’s laugh, the worry in their voice, the silence after you ask them a question they’d rather not answer. For as much time as I spend each day on Gmail chat and Facebook, I still cherish the phone conversations I have with friends and family.

For as often as I use Twitter and send text messages, I can only hope Skydialing won’t become a verb, like Twittering or texting. There’s just something about using technology to bypass personal interactions and avoid difficult conversations that irks me.

Just call.