Mt. Vernon Register-News

State News

February 27, 2013

Email, voicemail, text _ no response. What gives?

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She sent him an email with the details, but he didn't respond. She says she then telephoned and texted him to tell him it was a present. He eventually sent a one-line email, she says, telling her he was too swamped to open her email gift right then.

Instant communication "can be wonderful — but also terrible," says Barr, who shared the story more as a lament of modern communication than a reprimand of her son, whose busy work life, she acknowledged, often takes him overseas.

So this year, she sent him a birthday gift by snail-mail in a box. "He actually opened it," she says, and they've been talking more frequently since then.

Many other people, though, sit waiting for responses that never come.

"That's where the frustration lies — it's in the ambiguity," says Susannah Stern, a professor of communication studies at San Diego State University.

Though we often assume the worst, experts say we shouldn't.

Frequently, they say, people simply — and unknowingly — choose the wrong way to contact someone.

"I admit to having often been lax with checking my work number voicemail, which has led to me not responding to people waiting for my reply," says Janet Sternberg, an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University.

She's also had technical glitches. For instance: thinking she'd sent a text message to someone overseas and then, when he didn't respond, realizing she had his international number programmed incorrectly in her phone.

"The sheer management of all these devices and channels is exhausting and sometimes daunting, leaving less and less time for actual communication," Sternberg says. "We connect more but communicate less, in many ways."

That's why many people say they have no choice but to prioritize — and to respond only to the most urgent messages.

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