A month ago I was walking home after a particularly productive poi spinning class and as I reached George IV Bridge I received a text informing me that a family member had been ‘killed brutally’. The news was shocking enough without THE ENTIRE MESSAGE ALSO BEING WRITTEN IN CAPITALS. I of course stopped dead (no pun intended) in my tracks, and sort of keeled over.
The person who sent the message was merely informing me and did not mean me any harm. But it has had me wondering about the use of technology to deliver bad news. I received an email recently telling the story of a young woman who first found out that her parents had split up when her mother’s Facebook status changed to ‘single’. The ensuring conversation took place on their Facebook walls and went something along the lines of: ‘Daughter: So, you and dad have split up then? Mother: Ooops, sorry, I forgot to mention it’.
So, why is the insensitive delivery of bad news via technologies such as SMS, email, social networks so commonplace? Here are some suggestions:
Ignorance: Is it just because the rules have changed and we don’t know what they are? I mean, who teaches correct etiquette for communicating with new technologies? How do we keep up with the rules when the technology affecting our social lives is changing so rapidly?
Callousness / insensitivity: Is it because all the technology that we are using to create, build and maintain our relationships is chipping away at our humanity, and diminishing our capacity for compassion? People dump each other publicly on Facebook, sometimes changing their relationship status before informing their partners so that the partner ends up hearing about it from some third party from the community. You can change your relationship status so quickly, so easily with a couple of clicks of your mouse and yet that simple act can cause such devastation and humiliation if you don’t speak to your soon-to-be-ex partner first.
Lack of shame & accountability: Is it because we don’t hold our friends, families, colleagues and acquaintances accountable when they deliver news in a hurtful or humiliating way? I can’t help thinking that this kind of bad behaviour is not feared as we can always find ways to justify our actions and nobody will really hold us to account. I once got dumped by text – by a guy (tall in height, short in character) who got into his car and drove out of the city before sending me a text while I was at work saying: ‘Hi Bela. I’m afraid I’ve left town and am on way to ____. Will talk soon x’. Like a coward, he struck from a safe distance. The spineless fool never did call and explain. (Apologies for any bitterness you may sense – but it’s no fun being the victim of a ‘text and run’). I wish someone would tell him ‘you ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ and mean it.
Or maybe this is perfectly acceptable behaviour nowadays and someone just forgot to send me the memo? If so, please enlighten me.
Have any of you received bad news like the ones described above (or worse) via text, tweet or similar? Been sacked, dumped, hurt and humiliated by several different technologies? Share your stories with me because I don’t want to feel as though it’s just me.
Cheers, big ears