This essay was written by me, Brandon Nolet. I’m talking to a few folks through email, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
About two months ago, I noticed that some conversations with an individual I no longer speak with were consistently devolving into something that neither us were comfortable with. Little did I know that was related more closely to us being on different pages completely, but I digress.
I figured the reason for this pattern was due to the short and fragmented nature of social media. The perceived desire for immediate response was decided as the main issue. So we moved our conversations to email, and that greatly improved our discourse.
Yes we did part ways, but the move to email was not for naught. I learned a few things about myself, and a lot more about other people.
On social media, there’s such a desire for immediacy. If you look at the acceleration curve for any one discourse event on any social media platform, it picks up a lot of speed, and then drops off really quickly. This is reflected in the news cycle, the conversations we have on a daily basis, and is even reflected in some of the weather patterns that we increasingly see. I’m sure the last one’s not relevant, however.
This desire for immediacy makes people say dumb things but it also leaves very little room for real exploration. You don’t get to apply appreciation to the finer details of things, you don’t get a full understanding of topics, and you don’t get to surround yourself in the minutiae. What this does is remove the connection that one feels to a given topic.
It makes it easier for folk to bully, harass, and torture others online. It makes it easier for people to ignore things they don’t agree with a blindly share things that they think is beneficial to them. It makes it easier for folk to completely disregard the humanity of someone and take them at a single point in their life, a single facet of their being, and a single word that they said, and attempt to completely obliterate their reputation, ignoring every other part of their being. Again, I digress.
But with email, you don’t have that quick revolving door of topics. Yes you can still fire them off just as quickly, but it isn’t expected of you, in most cases. You’re not expected to be checking your email every two minutes, every hour, or even daily for people who’s main means of communication isn’t email. You have the time to think.
You can take your time formulating your response, considering all the implications of it. It almost becomes more formal by itself, just because of the difference in platform. Because it feels so similar to writing a letter, it’s easier to remember the other person on the other side and even consider how this person may take your words. It becomes easier to control the emotions fueling an angry response and instead send something more thoughtful.
But not only does it change the way your message is written, it also changes the way it’s perceived. The message was sent directly to you. The message was sent with your correspondence in mind. You’re the person they were thinking of when they wrote the email and if it’s someone you’ve been speaking with for a while, you can probably feel that connection.
Because, as well, the messages you’re sending to the person are longer, it makes you want to write more formally. There’s no character limit so there’s no reason to write in shorthand or be brief with your words. You’re not stuck re-explaining yourself several times. You can even elaborate on opinions and whatnot in a long-form way that allows for many nuances to pass through the text.
Your personal writing style shines through even more, leaving little room for someone to disassociate you from your writing. You feel like you know the person a little more and that you’re learning more about them.
My experience has been an example of all of that. I find myself enjoying the conversations I have, even if they’re of difficult topics. I don’t worry as much that someone’s going to take my messages, screenshot them, and post them elsewhere in the fediverse just to laugh at me. I know that I can say things that might not be understood by a newcomer to the conversation and misperceived as something that was not intended to be said.
I know that I can share my opinion with the person I’m emailing with, whoever it is, because I’m able to elaborate on the finer points. I don’t have to abbreviate my thoughts, I can just let them run free. But, I also have the benefit of the more formal setting in the sense that that freedom from the perceived desired for immediacy allows me to look back at what I’ve written. I can look for falsehoods in my thinking and I can do more in-depth research on something I’m not familiar with.
I can even draft a lengthy response to come back to a few hours later.
But what I most enjoyed was learning about people. I connected with some other folk while emailing. I’ve learned about people’s families, their personal goals, and even some of the things they’re insecure about. I’ve been able to take conversations to a more personal level and I think that both myself and the other person have benefitted from that.
Instead of just talking about a common interest, we allowed ourselves to be ourselves through conversation. Instead of it feeling like an impersonal correspondence, I felt like I was sitting by a fire talking with a friend.
If only that fire were real and these folk were closer. Appreciate the people around you and don’t be afraid to take your time.