A Hierarchy of Communication for a Technological World

What is man? This is, perhaps, the great question of our age.

The answer to this question impacts many modern dilemmas. What is a woman? Can a man be a woman trapped in a man’s body?

In relation to communication, the most important answer to that question is that man is body and soul. We are both physical and non-physical beings.

We see this right at the very beginning of the Bible:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

Genesis 2:7

So, man is made of dust. We are earthy things. Physical creatures. And we are living creatures. We are active, alive.

But we are not just physical. As we continue on in the Bible, we find that we are more complex than other living creatures.

Take Deuteronomy 6:5 for example:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

Look at all that this verse says and implies.

We are given a command to love – so we must have affections, emotions, the ability to love and act on that love. We are told to love with all of our heart, soul and strength. Jesus adds to this in Mark 12 where he says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

It is clear from these passages that man is not just his mind. Your body is not just a shell that houses the actual you. Your mind is not just a tool of your soul. Your affections and your emotions are not something different from yourself.

God is three in one – inseparably one God and three Persons without confusion. In a similar way we are complex creatures. Man is body, soul, mind, and heart. And you can’t divorce one of these from the others.

We are not machines. Our mind cannot be disconnected from our body.

Communication and Humanity

We all communicate all the time. We are created to be social.

“It is not good that man should be alone”

Genesis 2:18

We talk; we write. We want to be known and we want to know others.

Technology has increased the speed and methods of communication. In the past, before electronic means of communication, you could speak to someone face to face, or you could write them a letter and send someone or a pigeon to deliver it. If you wanted to send a letter to another part of the world, or even another part of the country you live in, it would often take days and even months for the letter to arrive and then even longer for the reply.

The telegraph was developed around the 1800’s which sped up communication. Alexander Graham Bell developed the telephone in 1876 which dominated long-distance communication until the 1980’s and 1990’s when the internet and mobile phone capability started becoming widespread.

Now, thanks to the combination of mobile phones and the internet and cheap manufacturing costs, it is estimated that over 80% of people worldwide have a smart phone. This means that you can communicate with 8 out of every 10 people in the whole world within milliseconds without even breaking a sweat.

But, as Tim Challies puts it in his book The Next Story; “as our information technologies extend one or more of our abilities, they also tend to disembody the information they convey.” Or, as Douglas Groothuis says more succinctly “the voice extends and the person recedes.”

When you move away from face-to-face communication to talking over the phone, you gain the ability to speak over distance, but you lose a significant portion of communication. You can’t see gestures or posture or facial expression for instance.

When you move from a phone call to a letter or an email or a text message, you lose even more of the person. You can’t hear tone or speed or volume. You can’t hear silence. Your communication becomes disembodied. It loses some of its humanity.

The Bible recognises the priority of face-to-face communication.

In 2 John 12, the apostle John says:

“Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.”

You can look as well at how God reveals himself to Moses – “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” in Exodus 33:11. Or you can see how right now, as we have communication from God in a book, we are not in an ideal situation. Instead, “we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We look forward to seeing God face-to-face (Revelation 22:4).

The Communication Hierarchy

So, if you are looking for genuine, human interaction that communicates clearly and effectively and pursues the best possible mode, you should always aim to go higher on this communication hierarchy:

  1. Face-to-face
  2. Video call
  3. Phone call
  4. Handwritten Letter
  5. Email
  6. Text Message or Equivalent (Messenger, WhatsApp etc)
  7. Social Media Comment

Be Aware of the Trade-Offs

Each of these communication methods have a function, but I think we need to be aware that as we gain something by going lower on this hierarchy, we lose something of the humanity of communication.

For example, a text message is a very useful way to communicate because it doesn’t require the sender and the receiver to be communicating at the same time. This makes it very functional for times when you need to communicate a piece of information but you are unsure when your friend will be free. You can shoot them a text and they can read and respond when they get the time. But you must understand that you have lost some of the humanity of the communication in this deal. The text message method has sold you on a benefit, but it comes at a cost.

The same comparison can be done for any of the communication methods on my hierarchy. As you go lower down the list, there are more benefits (speed, ease, ability to communicate with many people at once, etc.) but there are also more costs.

“The voice extends and the person recedes.”

Douglas Groothuis

I’m not going to fight to the death over the order of my communication hierarchy, but I think it is roughly correct. I hope it causes you to pause and consider what you gain and lose through the communication methods available and I’d encourage you to seek to communicate as high up the list as practical in each situation.

Let’s try to keep the humanity in our communication.

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