Friday, July 23, 2010

Telling the NY Times that “Texting” does NOT = Failure to Communicate

In the article Failure to Communicate the New York Times blames in part texting for students ineptness at resolving conflict. This is yet another example of digital immigrant critics blaming the tool rather than addressing the issue at hand. The director of housing laments that lately they are noticing something different: students seem to lack the will, and skill, to address ordinary conflicts. “We have students who are mad at each other and they text each other in the same room. “So many of our roommate conflicts are because kids don’t know how to negotiate a problem.”

How is it that the director assumes texting someone is a less valid form of communication then his preferred method? Students who’ve grown up digital are communicating in ways much different then those who (in this case) are directing them. It’s a shame that this housing director didn’t realize that, although they were not communicating in a way in which he preferred, the kids were communicating. Adults would be more effective at supporting students in resolving conflict when they realize that there are multiple ways to communicate. Just because students choose a different medium to do so, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Instead, if adults embrace the communication whatever the medium and support students in navigating in that medium, we’d all be better off. In short we need to stop blaming the medium and start supporting students in succeeding in their digital environment.

It seems that supporting students in communicating in their environments is something that never crossed the minds of these digital immigrant administrators who speculate that reliance on cellphones and the Internet may have made it easier for young people to avoid uncomfortable encounters. What these administrators don’t acknowledge is that students are communicating in more ways then ever and many educators/administrators are not taping into any of them except the traditional face-to-face method in which they are comfortable.

The article poses the question, “Why express anger in person when you can vent in a text?” My answer is why do we believe we should only express anger in person? What is wrong with trying to address conflict via text, IM, BBM, or other means if that is the communication style more comfortable for our students. It’s a method I personally have had success with during tiffs with my boyfriend. I’ve found many advantages of texting over talking...and, yes, even when we’re in the same room. One advantage is that if others are around they don’t have to hear our business. I’m sure in tight quarters with the roommates in this article that’s often the case. Another advantage is that, especially in times of conflict, it is often more effective for me to get my thoughts together first in text (instead of spoken words). It provides me a moment to express, review, reflect, and decide if I actually want to hit send. Additionally, communicating without the heated emotion of voice can often convey a message in a way that seems less critical and emotionally charged.

In the article an assistant director in the office of residential life laments the fact that dissatisfied students rarely take them up on an offer from a resident adviser to mediate, complaining that “We don’t have a lot of mediation. We have a lot of avoidance.” While in the next breath the article says kids are publicly addressing conflict on Facebook. That doesn't sound like avoidance to me. Perhaps the students are not interested in mediation support because the mediators have a DSL (digital as a second language) accent, that they just don’t really understand and they feel these mediators don’t understand their digital communication methods either.

Perhaps if the educational system was less busy banning and/or criticizing students for their preferred communication style educators and administrators could instead stop complaining and start getting to the business of teaching students socially appropriate behavior in these environments.
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