I certainly don’t think that computers or the so called ‘new media’ or evil or anything like that. They have opened up all kinds of new avenues when it comes to connectedness and access to information. That said, recently I’ve been thinking about the cost of convenience. What happens when it is so easy to communicate with each other? For every opportunity, there is a cost that comes with convenience. I thought I might spend a couple of posts thinking about how this affects our lives. So without further ado:
I took a scripture lesson for a parishioner this morning because they had to go away. While I was signing back out, the local Catholic co-ordinator bailed me up to ask if I knew who Mr.X was. I had no idea, other than he certainly wasn’t a member of our parish. In the end, it turns out that he is a Catholic bloke from a neighbouring parish who had sent out a group email to scripture teachers across the whole of the Central Coast informing them of some instructions for upcoming Easter services.
It’s wonderful that email makes it so easy to communicate with so many people at one time, but the cost of communication is that people will just send blanket messages rather than making sure that they are tailoring what they have to say for specific needs. When I mentioned this to our parish administrator, she put it perfectly: “He just wanted to move something out of his in tray and he didn’t stop to think how many other in trays he was clogging up when he did it!”
I remember listening to a podcast, (I am pretty sure it was “Reply all” but I couldn’t find it in their listing, so it must have been a sub story) about a tech reporter who has given up his personal email and only ever uses work email for really important things. His view was that we just fill ours and others’ inboxes with questions that we could probably answer if only we thought about things for a couple of seconds (or maybe we could show ingenuity), or we actually decrease productivity by going through a thousand different emails to sort something out, where one phone call would allow much more efficient back and forth to iron out problems.
Let me be clear and say that I think email, text messages, FB etc. add a lot of value to life, and I do think they add certain efficiencies. Even as I type this post, my boss just send back a draft for a new Baptism syllabus that I’d flicked him in email. But I also think it kills a little critical thought and some efficiency, when we go the easy route rather than making a phone call. I guess I could have titled this section “the easy route” rather than “efficiency” because that is one of the big factors too. I wonder whether there are more tensions both in work places and relationships because speaking to someone live is more of a hassle, so you can just ask something via email when it really deserved the personal touch.
The lost art
One of the final factors is that we are so over connected through phones & computers, that we end up undervaluing sincere personal communications. When I was in Bible College, I committed myself to writing handwritten letters to people, just letting them know that I appreciate them and what they do. I started after I heard someone say what it meant for them to have gotten a 3 line letter in the post from the senior minister just saying he appreciated them being on a reading roster.
When someone thanks you, particularly when they do it in a personal way, that can be a powerful thing! It would be a great start if people declared appreciation for things more often over the net, but even then, the act of doing so is an effortless one, it requires 3 seconds of typing & one second to send. These days, to write someone a note and let them you that you appreciate them costs $1 postage to start. If you like a nice piece of stationary & other such things it might rise to a couple of dollars, but what it says to the person that you’re writing to is that they are truly valued! You are willing to spend a little money, and the time to go to the post office, to let them know it too!
Professionally, it comes to “data spray”, I’ve found it helpful to ask myself the questions “could I deal with this issue more effectively if I spoke to the person”, and “am I just avoiding a conversation by writing this?” before I write emails. I’ve also found that, working with a lot of volunteers, people really respond well to a note of thanks. A word can be nice, and email is a little more memorable, but if you take the time to write to people, it makes a real difference (I still have letters like this written to me almost 20 years ago!) Personally, too, I’ve appreciated the process of thinking regularly “who and what am I thankful for?”, “Do the people who I am thankful for know that I appreciate them?”
You certainly don’t want to go overboard on something like this. Like emails themselves, letters can lose a little of the efficacy if you send them too often (and you’ll look like a stalker too!), but getting into the habit of writing to one or two people a week, though not as convenient as communicating online, will certainly prove to be worth your while!