Many of you remember the days back in late 80’s when a familiar voice would ring out, “You’ve Got Mail!” How exciting it was then to receive an electronic piece of mail from a friend or family member and even at times the occasional spam before we knew what spam was. The number of emails you received then wasn’t overwhelming as the number of people online was much smaller than now. Fast forward twenty years to 2009, the age of electronic communications where email, texting, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and dozens of other apps and tools are available for communication. Long gone are the days of “You’ve Got Mail,” to the days of hundreds of electronic messages each day. What use to be a thrill has at times taken on the mask of evil. Trying to answer every email, respond to every request on Facebook and not to mention, keep your Twitter followers abreast of what you are doing or thinking.
I want to focus on email for a moment. Long before email became the giant gorilla that it is today, internal email communication existed in large corporations. I specifically remember this feature on DEC VAX and PDP systems as you could send internal email to other users on the system. I thought that was a pretty cool feature in 1982! Of course, this type of electronic communication was primitive compared to what we use today. Email today has become a primary source of communications for individuals, corporations, non-profits, churches and any organization. Email is being sent and received from remote jungle locations to the most modern cosmopolitan centers. It is estimated that 250 billion emails are sent each day.
Email is a blessing in that we are able to communicate instantly with anyone around the world who has a computer and an email account. We are able to conduct business much faster, order products from our home and have them delivered the next day, communicate with relatives and friends about our latest happenings. As follower of Jesus, I am able to share my faith with more people than I would have ever imagined. As a Dad, I can talk to my oldest daughter who is four hours away at college. I can send and receive photos and videos in my emails instantly that would have taken days to get to the recipient via the US Postal Service. I can send a manuscript to a publisher for consideration or for editing and save money on postage. Email is great! I love it and use it extensively every day like all of you reading this post. I would be not be as productive and would not be in touch with the world like I am if it weren’t for email.
But, email has it’s dark side that we rarely want to address or think about. It is so dark that many of us don’t see it or won’t admit that it exists. In days past when we wanted to communicate with someone, it could be done one of a few and limited ways: face to face, telephone, or writing a letter. The preferable and ethical way of communication in those days was face to face. Email has lessened the art of verbally communicating with one another, although it could be said that the proliferation of the cell phone has opened up verbal communication more extensively. My point is, what used to be done in a more personal way is now being done via email which I will argue vehemently, is impersonal. Email can, and I emphatically state, can be a shield that people hide behind to keep from talking to someone face to face. I understand the reasoning, it is very simple – they don’t want to have to engage the person with a discussion that could be difficult or be in a conversation where they could be challenged. We can make an email sound wonderful and joyful when in reality the situation stinks and is hard. Our emails can come across as mean and hateful, when they were meant to be honest and loving. The words that we insert into emails are on the screen forever engraved in the pixels on the monitor (as long as we don’t delete the email) and they can be transferred to paper never to be erased. What was meant to be construed as constructive and positive, can be taken as hurtful and negative.
I am considering exterminating my Facebook and Twitter accounts and to use email on a much more limited basis than what I do. Again, it is a consideration that I am thinking about. Being a public figure, Facebook and Twitter keeps me in touch with people instantly that I know around the country and the world and I am able to make quick announcements that way. I am definitely going to explore how I can cut down on email and I would challenge you to start re-thinking your modes of communication, specifically electronic communication. Researchers and pollers tell us that there are generations of younger people who are socially inept in situations that involve person to person contact, but yet they desire personal relationships. That can never be truly realized in cyberspace. Cut back on your e-correspondence and start talking to people face to face or at least through voice communication.
Looking forward to your comments.