I have been thinking about the effects of being able to send instant communications to anyone at any time.
In this post I will talk about e-mail but the same applies to all forms of instant communications; tweets, SMS, facebook posts, usenet, even blogs. Over the past few decades I have received many messages from many people, I have also sent many messages including some that on reflection I would rather not have sent.
ASCII may seem clear and unambiguous but it is like a black and white image, you have to assume the colours from the image, just as with ASCII you have to assume the intentions, motivations and emotions from the message, it is easy to assume a deep significance to a remark which may have been a joke or just a meaningless space filler, the person at the other end can’t see the expression on your face when you typed it. Misunderstandings abound on the internet on both public and private channels.
Emojis have eased this situation somewhat but this is still a pale imitation of the real colours. Pastel shades. There is no international consensus on the meanings emojis are meant to convey.
Whenever a message arrives for me I get a message telling me “You have new mail waiting” or my phone vibrates when an SMS arrives, this gives the message a tremendous sense of urgency, after all the message may only be a few seconds old.
The same importance is given to all messages, the same announcement is made for a letter from a good friend as for a message from someone I don’t know in Taiwan wishing to introduce me to the latest unmissable business opportunity.
The Internet gives everything a sense of urgency. My friends used to wait weeks for me to answer their paper letters, now if I don’t reply within a couple of hours they send another message asking if I got their e-mail.
It is very easy to type out an answer straight away and send it off in the heat of the moment, but when I click on that send button it’s gone, I don’t get another chance. I’m sending out my first draft. Unpolished, unedited.
E-mail, unlike typed or handwritten letters, discourages reflection. While logged on, it’s difficult to compose a message and then put it to one side, to re-read and edit … it’s too easy to push the send button. We have no time to waste, modern living is all about the now. As a result too many messages are sent without thinking about their consequences.
Do we not find more mistakes in typed and handwritten letters? Of course we do! After all only a few typewriters have editing facilities and if you correct a handwritten letter the mistake is still obvious, but almost all editors/wordprocessors have spell checkers.
Spell checking reassures us that everything is OK. But there is more than spelling and grammar to a message. What about the content of the message.
I am wondering if wordprocessing and e-mail themselves degrade the art of writing. Our ability to effortlessly correct errors allows us to write first and think later ( if at all ). When I write with a pen in my hand I must get the sentence correct in my head before my pen touches the paper. All over the Internet, in e-mail, on facebook, on twitter and in Usenet groups there is a lack of concern for effective writing. There are many Web pages which are perfectly spelled and grammatically correct but are utterly meaningless!
I’m starting to think that e-mail destroys reflection at both ends of the communication channel. With the pressure on to compose a letter on the fly, many times I don’t re-read my words or refine my arguements. I don’t give my messages as much attention as they deserve. In writing as well as reading slow is better than fast.
I’ve sent off plenty of messages that I’ve later regretted, I’m sure we have all done this. You know this is true because you must have received messages like this yourself !
Next time you receive a message which seems crass or ill considered take some time to think about whether the sender of the message really meant what they said or was it a message that was composed in the heat of the moment ans sent of before it was considered in a rational light.
If I write a letter on paper then I have time to pause re-read it, address the envelope, think about what I have written, get a stamp, and reconsider. The angry letter I write tonight can be reviewed in tomorrow’s sunlight.
But not with instant messages.
The reader is at fault too. They read the message scrolling the screen up and presses a button, in an instant the message is either filed or deleted. No reflection or contemplation, there are a queue of messages waiting for judgement. Instead of pondering and trying to fill in the colours of the black and white image, it’s on to the next message.
Instantaneous response without reflection. Our words carry less weight, so we value them less. We don’t pack meaning into our messages.
In this modern age we are always in a hurry, time is money, we can’t waste the minutes, Schedules are tight. Deadlines press. No time to reflect.
No time. 😦