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Before You Digitally Ditch

Sandra Prior
Aug 11, 2008
It can be tempting to avoid face-to-face confrontations by digitally distancing ourselves and using emails, SMSs, or social networking sites, but this carries consequences, caution psychologists.

Dear John letters have always been traumatic, and SMSs and emails are being used more and more. There's a case of someone receiving an SMS from her partner saying he'd left home, and when she went to the bank she found their account had been emptied electronically. Her partner never came home again.

Likewise, in the workplace employees are often informed of retrenchments or company closures electronically, and inappropriate public announcements are made that way - such as when Nationwide used its website earlier this year to inform upset passengers that it had 'ceased all flight operations'.

The effect of such 'digital distancing' can be devastating. The recipients feel undeserving of personal attention, which adds to their general hurt, and they are deprived of the opportunity to question or negotiate, and of the sense of empathy or understanding that can come from nuances of facial expression or vocal inflection in face-to-face communication.

Ending any relationship digitally, whether a personal or work one, is rude and insensitive. A modern girl does her dumping face to face. Never hide behind an email, SMS or social networking posting - changing your Facebook or MySpace status to single and deleting photos of your partner doesn't cut it. Human contact still matters. If you want to break up or to tell your best friend you can't stand her new boyfriend, do it face to face.

People often seek digital shelter more from a cowardly desire to spare themselves complications and discomfort than a noble desire to make a clean break. This is rooted in the fear that if you tell someone in person or by phone that you should end a relationship, they will ask 'Why?' and press for explanations, try to persuade you to change your mind or grow emotional. But this may be a necessary part of processing the break up and progressing past it.

Flaming Rows

The sense of distance that digital communications give you, and the confusion that can arise from them, can also encourage you to vent more easily than in person - with toxic consequences. Social neuroscience shows that in face to face interactions our brain reads 'a continual cascade of emotional signs and social cues, using them to guide our next move so the encounter goes well', and 'inhibits impulses that would upset the other person or otherwise throw the interaction off'. In digital communication the only cues are the use of italics and other typefaces for emphasis, or emotions such as smiley faces, and this isn't nearly as effective.

It's easy to misread signals, type a cold or angry reply, and hit 'send', and this can endanger relationships.

Cool Solutions

Never dump anyone, or dump on anyone, digitally.

Don't skimp on personal introductions before dealing with people digitally.

In digital communications remember that while it's good to get to the point, it can sound curt. Include a warm remark or use emoticons - but sparingly.

Don't mistake a delayed response for passive aggression or a blow off.

Don't send an email in the heat of anger or after a few drinks.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own bodybuilding website at http://bodybuild.rr.nu.
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