Reflecting on @JustinWelby “On Tweeting and Touching” (@drbexl)


On the 28th January, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby wrote a piece on his blog, which also appeared in the Huffington Post entitled ‘On Tweeting and Touching‘, including this extract:

The subtleties we lose when we communicate electronically have to do with expression, with touch, with the face-to-face aspect of relationship. Social media does not show tears in the eye, a hand on the arm when saying something painful, body language that speaks of inner turmoil, deep distress – even gentle respect. It is simply there – usually forever.

I thought it was very interesting in the coverage that I saw afterwards, whether on Facebook/Twitter discussions, or in blog posts/news items, that the majority focused on this passage as if Welby was saying that social media is a second-class means of communication, rather than that Welby was speaking about ‘reconciliation’ activities in particular. A number of those seizing on what he is saying are indicating that nothing can replace face-to-face, to which I would respond with this quote which I use frequently in training:

“Even though in practice, face-to-face communication can, of course, be angry, negligent, resistant, deceitful and inflexible, somehow it remains the ideal against which mediated communication is judged as flawed.” Prof Sonia Livingstone, Children and the Internet: Great Expectations and Challenging Realities. 2009, p26

Social media is certainly not the right means of communication for every situation, neither is the telephone (where’s the body language in that?), the letter (now something special to receive amongst the marketing mail), and nor, always, is face-to-face. Interestingly, Welby decided to reflect on this based upon a letter he received! And let’s not forget that everything that we do online, we either do in embodied form (at least at present), or in a world that has been constructed by human beings, to rules envisaged by those within bodies.

There’s definitely some people with whom social media (or other forms of e-communication) work better than others! Several I communicate with I know so well face-to-face that I can see/hear them saying what they are posting,  and often clues are given with emoticons. Bryony and I did this other way round, we spoke online for at least a year before we met face-to-face, and then ‘carried on’ having the conversation we’d already been having, because we are both very “like” our online personas. Others require a lot more face-to-face conversation to reduce mis-understandings! Sometimes it’s not down to the people, it’s down to the conversation topic, which is again, I think where Welby was really coming from – Matthew 18:15 comes to mind… and maybe it’s down to the recipient – there are definitely some topics that I would rather have some time to think about for a response, rather than be thrown at me face-to-face. As always, when we try and make a ‘one size fits all rule’ … we need a lot more thought!

This is very much an ongoing discussion, and certainly brings up a lot of conversation in any workshops I run – I’d be interested to know what you think!!

About drbexl

Life Explorer, academia/learning, Christian, cultural history, WW2 posters: Keep Calm & Carry On, digital world, coach. Twitter: @drbexl @digitalfprint, @ww2poster @bigbible