Early communications were face-to-face. Early humans had no choice but to relay information in this way. The advent of written language allowed the recording and passage of information in a relatively compact way. For the first time ever, thought could weigh something, as you can learn more of in this TED talk.
Now the weight of the internet, the most comprehensive collection of stored information on the planet, is estimated to be roughly the same as a strawberry (though it could be as light as a grain of salt).
The average weight of a book is 12 ounces. The average weight of the internet (estimate) is 1.7 ounces. The book, so tangible in our hands, has roughly 1 word per every 334 million words on the internet.
No longer needing to heave the weight of knowledge, we can pass on any thought without consideration or restraint. (Thank you, by the way, to those of you reading this blog…)
And thus our email inbox is a veritable cacophony of discordant thoughts all vying for our attention. The ones that matter, those that need a response, are simply the quick jottings of someone else passing off an item that needs to be accomplished.
Example a: “Give me a call when you get a moment.”
Why wouldn’t the sender just pick up the phone to give you a call? The obvious response is that it’s an effort of consideration. Perhaps you’re too busy to pick up right now. But that’s short-sighted. It’s okay. If I don’t want to talk, or I’m too busy, I won’t answer. I have voice mail. Leave me a message.
Example b: “Can you get this to the boss/your spouse or partner/ the janitor.”
Unless you’re a secretary or planning a surprise party, the person sending generally has the same access to the person they’re trying to get the email to. They can send it themselves. Or, better yet, call. “Hey, I’m going to be sending this over. Can you look at it for me?”
Example c: “Good job on the project/report/performance review/whatever.”
On the surface, this seems okay. But really, it’s an acknowledgement of receipt and (if actually critiqued in some way by the other party) a notice that the task was met satisfactorily. If you want to give positive validation to someone, write two to three lines on a physical card, and mail it. Yes, it takes a little bite more time, a little bit of money – for a card, envelope and stamp. But, the appreciation becomes evident. Then you’re much more likely to receive an email back thanking you for your thoughtful card, or even a phone call.
It seems that most bad news comes over the phone, and the mundane and even good news gets sent via email. It’s as if we’ve let the internet messaging system take over whole chunks of our lives.
But how can we cut that cord?