Text Break Ups & Communication Breakdown

“We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”

–Sherry Turkle

A couple of years ago, not long after I won the Willamette Angel Conference (a business plan competition), I got a text message from a successful local businessman who had agreed to become our CEO and probably had a lot to do with my winning the conference.  He resigned over a text message, not even using the 160 characters allotted, “it isn’t going to work for me at this time” was all I got.  It was devastating, almost a surreal moment where I had to go back and read the message again. Did this just end – like that – over a text message? I felt it physically, a hearty dose of adrenaline mixed with old, deep fears of worthlessness and abandonment. Although this break up was in the business realm, we all know at least one person who has who had their heart broken over text message.

We resort to text and email messages for our bad news increasingly frequently. Using technology to escape the heart and difficult communications of our lives is the embodiment of adding insult to injury.  In part, we do this because text and email messages give us the illusion of control.  We believe we can present the self we want to be by our edits and even by our deletes. In actuality what we communicate is that we are unwilling to give our time or attention to the complex and messy conversation that human relationships deserve.

Just this past week, I got an email cancellation from a very well known author with whom I had arranged a radio interview over a month prior. That message too, was brief with little explanation. The cursory apology that does not feel truly felt because it arrives within five characters…sorry. Whether deliberate or not, we are increasingly relying on technology as a retreat from the real and demanding work of showing up for one another. We erroneously believe that our technology can clean up our loose ends, our unexplained departures, our unwillingness to be accountable. The reverse is true, the technology can easily and almost invisibly turn your emotional life into an empty shell. The irony and the tragedy is that the more we rely on our technology to substitute for the real conversations in our lives, the more we shortchange ourselves. We learn to stop caring because we forget that there is a deep and profound difference.

Face to face conversations require us to attend to one another. The root of the word conversation is to associate with or turn around. Human conversation is how we perceive from another’s point of view and, what’s more, it is the way we initially learn to converse with ourselves. This is why kids who have people speaking to them in their infancy and early childhood have such a leg up on their counterparts who sit in front of a television. Conversation is how we learn who we are and how we learn to read the nuances of the people around us. The art of conversation is how self reflection is born and without it, the continuous social media query of what’s on your mind has less and less chance of being answered.

In Sherry Turkle’s eloquent description of “The Flight From Conversation,” she shares poignant stories of teenagers who aspire one day to learn to have a conversation, students who want dating advice from artificial intelligence or those who look forward to computer-based psychiatry. She comments that these stories demonstrate “how much we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. And why would we want to talk about love and loss with a machine that has no experience of the arc of human life? Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for one another?”

If anything deserves our human attention it is our departures in this brief interlude that we call life.  Having the courage and compassion to leave someone with their dignity intact is worth every pound of effort we need to muster to do it. Technology was designed to make life easier to manage, not easier to avoid. Use it to set up a place and time to meet someone for a good bye. Don’t be fooled that the good bye is sent with a text.


.1 years ago

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Ashlyine B.
Ashlyine B.4 years ago

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Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez5 years ago

convenient curse??? thnx

Silas Garrett
Silas Garrett5 years ago

These means of interaction use technology as a shield, and shows more cowardice than control. Still, it can be tempting when you feel vulnerable, and I can understand the impulse. I do think it would be best not to rely on them.

heather g.
heather g5 years ago

This sums it up beautifully :

Technology was designed to make life easier to manage, not easier to avoid.

I do feel sad - especially for young people who seem to have experienced almost nothing like real conversation. Often adults speak to young people, and seldom with them.
I have noticed this phenomena since moving to Canada and many times has heard new youngsters express dismay going to school here - when class breaks, everyone goes onto whatever device and doesn't even know that they exist as a person sitting alongside you for months on end.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Thanks for the article. I do agree that people are way too hooked onto technology that they almost forget the most basic mean of communication, speech.

Nimue Pendragon

I find it very sad that people resort to using emails and texts for all their communication. It's so much nicer to see someone in person, or even telephone them.

Cindy B.
Cindy B5 years ago

Cont'd. from below! (Sorry to be so long-winded)....

....the speaker's frustrations, vexations and hang-ups, not representing anything "real" between two people at all.

This is very sad, as it casts people adrift, without the groundings and moorings that realtime/realspace interaction provides. People aren't sure who or what the heck they are. They start losing the ability to judge themselves (and thus present themselves) confidently. And believe me, much more bad than good comes of a situation like this.

I believe we're eventually headed (if the world lasts that long) to a time when humans are represented merely by brain matter suspended in stationary vats of liquid. All experiences will be cyber experiences -- relieving us of the need to actually walk around, get stuck in traffic, get soaked in the rain, etc. By that time the complexity of our outward operating system will have evolved far beyond that of our inner operating system. It'll be a blessing that the brains cannot escape their stationary vats to wreak real damage upon each other. Because "mental health" and real social connectedness, as we know it, will be a relic of the past.

Cindy B.
Cindy B5 years ago

Technology, for all the miracles it provides, is nonetheless doing us a terrible disservice. It is depriving us of our people skills and, gradually, of our sense of self.

Face-to-face, or realtime/realspace communication, does so much more than just deliver words. It teaches us about other people and, by extension, about ourselves.

Words are only a small part of a social interaction. How do people handle stress and time constraints? Unanticipated interruptions, distractions and twists of fate? New information that changes things? How considerate is the other person about listening, acknowledging points, sharing the floor? How humorous, charitable, attentive, relaxed is the other person? Does the body language support the verbal communication or tell a different story?

These things tell you SO much more about the person than words alone. AND they show us -- in subtle and overt ways -- what the person thinks about US. Are we funny? Good housekeepers? Industrious? Studious? Gregarious? Whimsical? Sexy? Astute? The only way we can judge these things is by averaging the responses of many, many others to what we say and do -- and gradually figuring out where we fit on the continuum of whatever it is we're looking at.

But now, technology is replacing realtime/realspace with words, only words. And the words are increasingly shallow and meaningless, often invalid, too often negative and confrontational. Increasingly they're all about the speaker

Alexandra C.
alexandra m5 years ago

i hate texting..cut off that service out of annoyance...it's ironic that there are sooo many ways to communicate and yet no one is really communicating..or rather all these means of comuncation are really to avoid communicating. And every type of correspondence has become so informal even in realms where it perhaps should not be. i have heard of people breaking up with a curt email or message and i think this is really cowardly.