Friday, September 28, 2012

The Art of Communication

Once upon a time, people referred to "the art of conversation." However, since conversation no longer exists, I've modified the phrase accordingly.

Communication refers to two or more persons interacting with one another. It could be by talking face-to-face, by letter, telephone or email. The key word would seem to be "interacting" meaning that all persons participate.

Communication has grown weak. People share information with others about their lives. They can post this information -- even including photos -- on so-called social media for the world to see. They can send the information electronically. But this endeavor is entirely one-sided.

Talking to a friend recently about the way we interact, I was reminded of the fine art of letter writing, an ancient practice. Along with the manufacture of buggy whips and corset stays, letter writing belonged to a society long ago and far away. People used to WRITE letters. This required that the writer have in his possession several items also now extinct. Among the items was stationery, fine writing paper that had a distinctive appearance, perhaps a monogram. Writers also carefully chose a writing instrument, sometimes a fountain pen which contained liquid ink. Such writing may also have necessitated a blotter. Or the writer may have selected a ball point pen, but that was about as casual as the process allowed.

The writer then had to THINK about what it was that he/she wanted to say. Sometimes great thought went into such a task, deciding the tone of the message and outlining it clearly. When my father passed away in 1975, we found among his possessions a letter written to him in 1924 by his grandmother on his 21st birthday. It was a personal message about how to live his life with pride, a straight-forward, simple message that could not have been shared in any other manner.

Letters written home during wartime were often remarkable. These were designed to reassure those at home that the soldier was doing well. The letters might have been written while he was pinned down in a trench or lingering in a military hospital. Perhaps this effort was to be his last communication. Perhaps the writer merely wanted to comfort his family. Wartime letters were often the last attempt to say what was obvious to the family and perhaps all that would remain.

There are love letters. Letters of praise. Letters of congratulations. Writing is the only method of communication that endures.

I don't mean, of course, that we should abandon our computers. Love them or hate them, these devices are here to stay, at least until evolution takes us further. But even though we utilize technology, we should employ the same skills as writers of the past. Think about what we are going to say. Put the words together in such a way that the other person can recognize that we care and that we want to hear back from them. Carefully execute the document so that, if it is rediscovered in 50 years, we would not be embarrassed by its contents.

We live in a world of sound bytes. We interrupt each other in conversation because we can't wait to say what is on our minds. We leave comments on news articles/stories published online because we feel that our words are somehow important and relevant to the issue. We send text messages to each other like "im at the store" without regard to (1) spelling (2) punctuation or (3) importance, merely because technology permits us to do so. If we telephone and are unable to reach someone, we leave some silly message in voice mail rather than call back and speak in person.

I don't see this deterioration in communication reversing any time soon.

But wouldn't it be nice if we could resume the art of written communication? I do my best to keep in touch with others, even if it's just a note enclosed in my Christmas card. Which brings to mind the scourge of modern living, the "form" Christmas letter, about which I have screamed before and will likely do again. Don't bother sending these. No one cares. If you can't write a line or two on the bottom of the card, don't send a two-page dossier about all that has happened since last Christmas. It's insulting to receive.

Try to think about scribbling a few words instead of sending an email. You might be surprised at the results.





No comments:

Post a Comment