Is Tech Conspiring to Make Interpersonal Communication Worse?

Is it just me or…?


Haven’t written about this much, or at all, but I developed a strong opinion, last few years, that certain messaging technologies aren’t super compatible with my nervous system. A few, relatively popular apps provide a few particularly pointy examples.

Facebook Messenger helped me make a big ol’ mess with my nervous system, year before last, as I started to message with someone who I wanted to talk to a lot, but didn’t seem that interested in talking to me. My intuition told me that last bit, even as FB Messenger constantly alerted me to that person’s presence or recent presence online, even after I hadn’t interacted with them for months. It was a perplexing moment for me, almost on the daily, thinking to myself that the only resort I knew to get the visual reminders to stop would be to block the person on FB and Messenger, and at the time, I felt that that was more energy than I wanted to give in that direction. I ultimately did block the person, as I realized that I was having apprehensive feelings just thinking about using FB, and it’s here for me, not the other way around.


I seriously doubt that the way that FB Mess. sets up alerts (they’re the ones that show you who is online and active) is an accident, whether it is intentionally designed to exacerbate certain kinds of nervous system maladaptive patterns or not.

Now, a second messaging mechanic comes to my attention as kind of super annoying. Some of you will be familiar with Slack. At first, I loved Slack. I saw it used in a context where new participants could see without much risk how people were contributing to various conversations, and I did see it as a beautiful example of technology in action.

But I also notice that with Slack, that if someone doesn’t respond to you, it gets lost. I never know if someone has read a message I’ve sent if they don’t respond, for instance. And there’s no reminder to follow back up. The Facebook news feed has mechanisms that remind people that conversations are potentially ready for more engagement, with notifications on replies, and @name mentions, and notification of likes. We all know they can get annoying, but there’s a lot of granularity in how you can turn them off individually.


People like feeling they have been heard, “message received”.


Ultimately, it’s up to people to engage, and you can only encourage people to engage so much until it’s coercive. When do most people realize that a non-response is a “no”? Do “most” people usually feel “crickets = no” or not? I get this, now, but haven’t always.

So the real issue for me, it appears, is that there can be a context of a relationship that I infer will lead to “good communication” but then it doesn’t. Now, letting go is a much more prized approach than in previous years, when I would obsess over not hearing back from folks for any variety of reasons. Now, I seek what I’m seeking, just in other places.


But the hard part is when someone I think of as a friend doesn’t act in a way I believe my definition of friend should work, and we each get to choose for ourselves what those definitions should be. It’s usually around responding to messages inconsistently. Once I see someone isn’t great at getting back to me, from there it’s usually a management and unwinding process from that point. I know that I don’t want to give as much energy to this person, but several months/years of getting to know somebody and giving them the benefit of the doubt makes an immediate and decisive break not so tenable. Things get messy. I’ve felt disrespected, I’ve potentially disrespected them, communication is breaking down, and poor communication practices don’t give a lot of hope that communication will be restored. These days, I’m just letting go as I lean back and sip my piƱa colada, and what it took to get here, oh my.

At some point over the last 2 years, I found myself in this place occasionally where even the slightest breeze might cause me to feel exhausted. I felt this way around a new person I was getting to know in a friendly way. As an experiment, I decided to stop talking to them abruptly, and while other people can do that, it’s hard for me, I found.

Wish technology would make communication easier. I feel like there’s an opportunity for it to do so.


But in the absence of technology making communication easier, I’m going to keep putting myself in situations that test and develop my Don’t Give A Fuck skillset.

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