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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 26, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 58




Sister Rita Larivee Keep the e-mail, but don't forget the bread

By Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

I just read an article on interpersonal communication that dealt with the e-mail phenomenon and our capacity to transmit information at an ever-increasing speed. Nothing new really. But the article caught my attention when it spoke of "communication" and the "transmission of information" as two different things.

We have been told that only about 10 percent of the meaning of communication is conveyed by words. The rest is conveyed by body language, kinetics and personal surroundings. If this is true, then e-mail is more the transmission of information than communication. The same can be said of cellular phones. While both of these means for contacting others have become extremely popular, there doesn't seem to be a corresponding increase in "communication."

Is it possible that our embracing of these tools, while good and necessary today, have also allowed us to minimize the full essence of what it means to communicate with other human beings?

As a society and as a church, we are struggling to understand the cultural challenges facing us, particularly in light of the complexities of globalization. We are capable of sharing information more quickly than ever, even as events unfold, and we have more information than we can possibly process in a lifetime. Yet, cultural misunderstandings seem to be on the rise, not the decline. Many people feel cut off from the leadership of the church. And we are dealing with an increase in personal loneliness and depression throughout our communities.

Something isn't right. We are progressing at one level, while seemingly regressing at another.

Perhaps part of the difficulty is a misunderstanding of the technologies available to us.

Are we really communicating?

My cell phone is always close by and responding to e-mail has become a daily ritual. But neither tool provides me with the sense of connection I get when sharing a meal with someone or when having a quiet conversation while accompanying another for a walk.

There's simply no substitute for personal contact. So I'd like to offer a bit of Christian wisdom as a remedy to our information explosion: the breaking of bread.

E-mail without bread provides little nourishment for the spirit. And cell phones without companionship can leave us emotionally hungry.

New technologies are great. But without the old human tradition of rubbing elbows and seeing the expression on another's face, we may find little success in resolving our problems.

We enjoy the things we can see, feel and smell.

Will this bring about world peace? By itself, no. But it will provide a better starting point for journeying down the road.

Keep the e-mail, keep the cell phone, but don't forget to break bread too.

Rita Larivee SSA is NCR associate publisher. Her e-mail address is

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