And like most everyone else, I write emails and texts regularly.
So I have a little experience and a lot of awareness as to how the medium in which I write shapes the content of what I write…and many times the quality of what I write.
I don’t give the same attention to a text as I do a book, obviously. I’m simply trying to convey information. “10 a.m. next Tuesday at the cafe. See you there.” (If you read a text or Signal message of mine and an emoji is used, you can be certain someone is holding a loaded gun to my head. I use words. So ignore the message and call the police.)
Emails are the next lowest form in this hierarchy. I try to be focused, but cushion the message with some courtesies so as not to be abrupt. Still, the priority is efficient, concise, clear communication with as much detail as necessary, but no more.
My personal letters and electronic correspondence are written with patience and care. I want to share, inquire, describe, and detail what I’m thinking and feeling and experiencing. I want to paint a picture. I want my motivations clearly understood. I want to be circumspect, on point, fair, and passionate, depending upon the subject matter and context. Personal correspondence can, of course, contain random thoughts and whimsical notions, but I pretty much stay on track.
My books are the most demanding. They must convey wisdom and information in an organized and entertaining way. They have to be worth, not just the price of the paperback, but the value of someone’s time. They must also stand the test of time. So they get my blood, sweat, and years…if not tears.
I have no idea where songs come from, and they usually don’t take that long to write. So they are the exception.
What I want to convey in all this is that the medium we use to communicate often shapes how we communicate and how well we communicate. If we compare memes and Instagram messages with, let’s say, some of the letters we’ve found here at the chateau from 150 years ago, the contrast is astounding. The letters drip with thoughtfulness, clarity, and detail. Furthermore, the penmanship is extraordinary.
People took their time to write a letter by hand. Then they took the time to post it. Then it took time to arrive to the recipient. Then it took time to open the envelope and read. Because of all of these requirements, letters were saved. They were treasured. They carried weight and meaning beyond the paper and ink used to compose them.
In this contrast we can find a reminder: the medium we use to send a message shapes and shades that message.
So take a moment the next time you’re going to send a note to a good friend or a loved one. Ask yourself, is it worth pulling out a pen and paper and handwriting a letter? The person and the relationship might be worth it…and better off for it.