Friday, January 6, 2012

Email: An Unpredictable Form of Communication

What I love most about the written word is that it is almost entirely subjectively interpreted.

What I hate most about the written word is that it is almost entirely subjectively interpreted.

Some of you may have seen the article I cross-posted on my Facebook profile (which all the hipsters now refer to as "timeline").  The article was about the bankruptcy of the US Postal Service.  "Snail Mail" is going out of style.  Unfortunately for me, it is something I love dearly and is close to my heart.

This love for sending and receiving mail was largely imparted me by my mother.  As children we never received a gift without sending a thank you note.  We also were expected to regularly write letters to friends that moved away or family that didn't live nearby.  I have to admit that I didn't always love writing letters, especially thank you notes.  A kid can always find more exciting things to do than pen a letter, but it grew on me, and it is something I still value, and you can bet my kids - should there be any - will be held to the same standard my mother held us to.  

My freshman year of college, my mom averaged a card a week to me.  Sometimes these cards held newspaper clippings, pictures from home, recipes she found interesting, sonic gift cards, and almost always a bit of money.  She kept this up the other three years, even if the average was more monthly than weekly, and that I suspect is largely due to the fact that from my sophomore year on, she had both my sister and I to write.  Never did she miss a holiday opportunity to send the most ridiculously lavish boxes.  My sister and became infamous with the university mail room (not to mention our friends!) for receiving these gigantic boxes filled with goodies.  They were full to the brim with love.

But back to my point.... Email just has no personality.  I don't care how many smiley faces and emoticons you throw in there, it will never equate a handwritten letter.  Besides that, people are lazy with email construction: abbreviated words and misspellings run rampant, and who cares about proper sentence structure!  And all these shortcuts are necessary when typing already cuts writing time at least in half?

However, laziness aside, my real issue with email is that tone, meaning, and intention are so easily misinterpreted.  In fact, especially in the work place, but also amongst friends, I sense that we are almost looking to misinterpret the content and have something to throw our hands up in the air over.  Electronic messages have made it easy for us to be snarky without having to do it to someone's face.  It's so simple to ping back a reply or text with evil intent when there aren't immediate consequences.  And I'm not being accusatory here, as I am every bit as guilty as the next person.

I am endlessly surprised that people choose to deal with conflict through an email - rather than addressing the person IN person.  Are we so afraid of confrontation that we choose a cowards way out?  For that is what this is... cowardly.  To not be able to say those very same words to someone's face is just cowardice.  I suppose you could make the same argument about a letter.  Sure, you can write really hurtful things in a letter.  I've been a recipient of letters that would probably fall into this category.  However, when you are writing something by hand you usually have to think about what it is that you are saying.  It's really simple for me to type something ugly and erase it if I change my mind, but before you write something in ink, you stop and consider things like word placement, commas, and what you are trying to say.  I fully believe that if you are taking the time to write and mail something, more than likely you have good intentions about it since you're making a little bit more of an effort.

Now, there is a time and a place for an email, just don't let it replace personal correspondence, either face-to-face or by mail.  Don't let the ease of it keep you from making the effort to write down a note and stick it in the mail.  And don't use it as a crutch when you've got some dirty work to do.

Now let me introduce you to two of my friends: Pen, meet Paper.  

Y'all will get along great.


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