Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Too Much Communication?

by Vicki ThornThe world isn’t what it used to be!There was a time when communication happened with a pen and paper, required an envelope and a stamp and was carried by horse, train or truck to be delivered to your door by the mailman. It was then up to you to write a response and send it back the same way. Communication took weeks to happen. You looked forward to the response with anticipation. Getting mail was exciting! People kept letters!Communication within our family and community often happened face to face, as we walked to school or hung up clothes to dry. We learned to listen to others and read body language.Once the telephone came into existence, you talked to the operator, who would connect you to the person you wanted to speak to. The cost of long distance calling was expensive, and conversations were not undertaken in a frivolous manner. One had to be at home or in an office to access a telephone, which was connected to a wall. College kids did not call home frequently, and parents did not call constantly.Technology blossomed. Telephones became portable and could be carried around. We were no longer tethered by communication. With cell phones, we could speak to anyone, anywhere, at any time.Computer technology moved out of the lab, into the home and then into the laptop and the iPhone and Blackberry. There was constant access to everything. All technology, all the time – at what cost?Then came the advent of social networking. Facebook, MySpace and other groups exploded. We had friends we had never met, people on the other side of the country or even the other side of the world. We could share our personal lives in cyberspace. Sometimes we were exposed to or exposed too much information. Twitter went a step further, allowing us to follow celebrities or friends every second of the day.Constant information, constant communication day and night. There is the impression of intimacy, but it is pseudo-intimacy. Bluetooth technology becomes an ear appendage, and we are suddenly never alone.All this has led many to live in a virtual world. They have 400 friends on Facebook, a good many of whom they would not recognize if they ran into them on the street. They play virtual games with virtual strangers but engage in warfare and lovemaking as though it was real.A newspaper story in Canada a few months ago recounted the sad tale of a couple seeking a divorce. They had met in an online social game and had dated and bedded each other in their virtual world. They decided to meet and got married. Later, she discovered that he was still playing and had been unfaithful in the game with another woman. Virtual relationship or real, she now wanted a divorce because of his online infidelity.High school students will text someone they are with instead of speaking to them. Schools have begun to limit cell use because they are disruptive in classrooms, can be used to cheat on tests and can tie up communication channels in the event of an emergency. Parents try to stay in constant contact and at the same time inhibit their ability to know what is happening with their child.In September, Hope Witsell, age 13, committed suicide after a sexting message (a nude photo sent from cell phone to cell phone) she’d sent her boyfriend was forwarded on. She was the second known suicide after such an event. The first was 18-year-old Jesse Logan in Cincinatti, who tried to tackle the issue head on in the media but could finally no longer stand the harassment from her peers who called her names, threw drinks on her and threw her out of a prom party.One in four teens admits to having participated in sexting.Social networking sites can fuel a sense of popularity, yet they reveal a lack of real connection. Abuses and tragedies are exploding.Prosecutors say Lori Drew, 49, along with her daughter and an assistant, used the social network MySpace to pretend to be a 16-year-old boy named “Josh” who befriended, flirted with and ultimately rejected Megan Meier, a 13-year-old who lived down the street (Nov. 20, 2008, ABC News).Megan killed herself. The case is raising issues of cyberbullying. The woman charged closed her online account when she learned what had happened. Prosecutors report that she allegedly said, “It’s not like I pulled the trigger.”The next day another story broke about a Florida teen who had been talking about suicide on various blogs. He was egged on by other bloggers and ultimately committed suicide – captured online with a live video stream – as he overdosed on prescription pills. How awful to be crying out for help and encouraged to kill yourself! The story observed that the “internet provides an outlet to suffer in public” (Nov. 21, 2008, ABC News).The Times Online carried a story in January of seven suicides in South Wales. It was observed that the phenomena of the copycat suicide may be exacerbated by social networking sites and the possibility of notoriety gained from a memorial website.Recently, The Times of India reported plans for another mass suicide on December 21 – again, promoted by an online social networking group. Authorities are trying to find those responsible.It is time to address the dark side of today’s social communications pseudo-community. The Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, Archbishop Nichols, spoke out this summer on the very subject, asserting that the Internet and cell phones are “dehumanizing” community life. While they do build community, he said, it is not well-rounded, creating “transient relationships” and placing too much of an emphasis on popularity.Young people “throw themselves into a friendship or network of friendships, and then it collapses and they’re desolate,” he warned, urging them instead to seek a community that emphasizes “a genuine growing together and a mutual sharing in an interest that is of some significance.”Thank you, archbishop, for having the courage to begin the conversation! Are we listening? pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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