There is something very romantic in the notion of writing a letter. One hundred years ago, unless the communication was face-to-face, letter-writing was the manner of communication available to the masses. The telephone was not yet common for everyday household use and the telegram was for more urgent communication. People knew how to write letters and did so, presumably, with thoughtful execution.
We now have the opportunity to communicate instantly with hundreds upon hundreds of people a day. We call, tweet, text, e-mail, and post. Much to my kids’ amusement, I am still somewhat dazzled by the technology available to me. I absolutely love the convenience of texting, the expediency of sending an e-mail, and the opportunity to run my entire business from my phone.
But, what about the quality of our communication? What about the intentionality of our communication? What about the awareness of the impact of our communication? And what about the delicate nuances that have been all but lost to us in the past two decades?
I have had three conversations in the past week about misinterpreted texts and e-mails. These conversations have been with, or have involved, teens and pre-teens who all have easy access to technology; smart phones, iPods, iPads, and computers. They text incessantly, they post constantly, and they feed their social media compulsion with alarming regularity.
Our kids are digital natives. They were born into this mode of communication and they have never known anything else. They will never know the feeling of going to a library catalogue to find the right book to research a project. They will never have a question go unanswered for more than the few seconds it takes them to Google it. And, they will never know a time when ‘Googling’ was not a commonly used verb. Our kids are growing up right alongside these tremendous devices for communication and are helping to shape the way technology is being developed.
But no one is teaching them how to communicate. All their parents and teachers grew up in a completely different culture of communication so we cannot draw on experience. And other than the odd assembly about cyber bullying, we are not teaching them how to effectively communicate when it is both instant and remote. They are not learning about mindful, appropriate, and respectful communication. And they are not learning and truly understanding that their communication is high stakes and that each and every word can be used against them at any time.
I am in the process of dreaming up a workshop for tweens and teens. I deliver Effective Communication workshops for a living but, until today, it has not occurred to me that I am missing the single most important demographic.
I am not suggesting that we somehow convince these kids to curb their use of technology because I would much rather bang my head against a brick wall than try to make that happen. I am suggesting that we need to help kids understand that instant high volume communication can be a fabulous tool if used with skill, intentionality, and respect.
A hundred years ago, my great-grandmother was writing letters. She probably only had the time to write a low volume of letters so each one was special. I imagine that she gave careful consideration to each and every word before she committed it to paper. I imagine that she took great delight in the letters she was writing. And I also imagine that she intuitively understood that the recipient of her missive would delight in her communication, possibly re-read it many times and maybe even save it for future generations to enjoy.
My Radical idea for today is that the intentional communication of my great-grandmother one hundred years ago be somehow captured and understood. I am dreaming up the possibility that we can somehow ask our ancestors to remind us that written communication is sacred and, most importantly, that each and every word does matter.