Over on Head, Heart, Hand, David Murray linked to an infograph featuring the 50 things technology has replaced. I busted out laughing when I read dialing *69 to find out who last called you. My kids wanted to know what was so funny, so I had to explain myself while they looked at me like I was ancient (and then my 13-year-old schooled me on the new use of *69 to block your call so that you can prank someone).
While I’m glad to see many of these measures replaced, I was surprised when I saw #11–handwritten letters. Gasp! I am not letting these treasure go without a fight! So I wondered about some of the reasons for writing less. The obvious answer is speed and convenience. An email or text message reaches us much quicker than snail mail, as they call it. Okay, I get that. But we need to look at what we are losing with this trade.
With email we are losing some valuable written interactions. Think about some of the correspondences that we now have published between scholars, or even lovers. Emails are disposable. But in the past, these communications were valued enough to be saved, and even publicly distributed. Our modern-day professors, presidents, theologians, and other thinkers will not have this kind of legacy to leave behind unless someone is hacking into their email accounts.
Because of our new technology, I think we have a different mentality about the transient nature of our words. We have a cheaper use for them. Instead of writing your spouse a love letter, you shoot them a text, or maybe publicly proclaim their worth to you on Facebook. But this is forgotten and replaced by just a few more status updates. Are our thoughts mere status updates?
This mentality seems to carry over even when we spend time with our thoughts and words. Take blog posts for example. I can meditate and reflect on something as deep as strength to prevail in the Christian life, bearing my soul to you guys. While it is wonderful to read the comments on how some of my readers have reflected on my words, and it is nice to see that maybe it received a high viewing audience, it will just disappear into the blogosphere by the time it cycles into the dreaded “previous page” or archives section. “Archives” is no longer an exciting word. Who wants to dig through a cyber slush pile? With the information age in full blast, it’s all about novelty. What are the new thoughts, today? We don’t want to miss out on what so-and-so is thinking right this moment.
And so we have Twitter. This is like the epitome of disposable thoughts. We’ve gone from the age of handwritten letters to replaceable one-liners. Constantly updating. It is a shift in mentality. We’ve traded quality of words for quantity. I’ve said before that I think Twitter’s best use is as a cyber community bulletin board, kind of like Tim Challies’ A La Carte gone global.
Maybe blogging, texting, Facebook, and Twitter have made us feel more important than we really are—like our one-liners are valuable enough to publicize. But I think it has inadvertently done another kind of switcheroo in our thinking. Maybe it has also affirmed the unimportance of our thoughts as they are floating around in a cyber-sea of everyone else’s thoughts, being replaced by the latest status update. Now we have to think about speaking at opportune times when more people are tuned in. And maybe this is another reason we handwrite less, because we don’t think that our words are that important to keep.
So think about the message that you would be sending to someone if you did handwrite them a letter: “You are valuable enough for me to get out paper and pen. I am willing to let you see my flawed handwriting and ink bleeds. But the fact that I am handwriting and delivering this means that I am thinking about the quality of the words that we share.”
Sure there’s a place for our more disposable thoughts—ample place! But spend some time for the keepers as well.