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.
That describes Mahrinah von Schlegel, who’s working to launch a Chicago-based “incubator” that will offer shared office space and other resources for fledgling tech entrepreneurs.
“People get angry when not answered and send multiple messages,” says von Schlegel, the 30-year-old managing director of the firm, known as Cibola. She says missed communication has caused her to lose some business deals. Often, it’s when people try to contact her by Facebook or direct message on Twitter and she doesn’t see the messages for days. Email, she says, is her preferred mode of communication.