Humanity is gradually losing it’s ability to communicate. With more tools than ever to get your message out to the world, we currently live in a time where communication is equal parts easier and more difficult than it has ever been. We have so much to say, and near infinite platforms on which to say it, yet the message still gets lost in translation.
I have a theory.
Lockdowns and their impact on communication
During the COVID-19 pandemic (and likely long before that), the majority of communication moved from in-person verbal/visual, to online and being text/video-based. These two forms of communication come with very different outcomes. In person, it’s really difficult to say something confrontational, likely due to fear of a response or consequence. Online, typing some words into a box and hitting “send” has no immediate consequence. It’s virtually a free-for-all. With the majority of the world shifting to online communication in a meaningful way for the first time and doing so in a hurry, there was no time to explain the etiquette (referred to as “netiquette”) of how to communicate online. Thus, “in real life” communicators found there were suddenly no direct consequences to anything they said.
Bring that mindset into the “in real life” communication world, and we have a serious issue.
Once lockdowns were eased or lifted globally, those same individuals, now armed with a “no consequences” mindset, went back out into the world. All of a sudden, much of what they saw bothered them, and they felt empowered to say whatever they want, bar any consequence. We were locked up in our homes for more than 2 years. Naturally, our boundaries change. Thus, even the smallest annoyance feels like a larger bother.
The individual who sees something they don’t like then says something out loud in a public place, and all kinds of chaos ensues. This action contributes to the large existing fear held by many who are scared to communicate online, for fear of being misinterpreted or “cancelled” over a misunderstanding.
Learning how to say things on the internet
Having grown up in the years where Internet Relay Chat (IRC) became available to the consumer market, and in an age where “saying things on the internet” was tantamount to having training wheels on (you could say something, make a mistake, learn from it, and not do it again), I feel I am a member of the final generation to understand how to effectively communicate and exist online and in the real world, at the same time. We did the work when texting (remember pressing “7” six times to get an “s”?), and we learned in a safe playground. Today, I type and read for the majority of my day. Communicating over text comes naturally, as I’ve had practice getting my point across, reading emotions and sentiment behind text, and understanding how to translate “in real life” conversation into text. The majority of the world has not had this experience.
A framework for communicating, both online and in the real world
Do not be afraid to speak your piece. If fear controls you, this will be evident in your communication.
It is okay to disagree. Do so politely, state your position, and be prepared for someone else to have a different (sometimes opposite) position.
The easiest subject to campaign on is the truth. In this case, “truth” means “facts”. Keep your messages clear and factual.
Before you hit “send”, always remember to THINK. Is what I am about to send;
If what you’re sending ticks all of those boxes, hit “send”. If not, reword it. No-one is waiting for your answer, so it’s okay to take a little bit longer before you reply. If you can’t get there, delete it all and don’t reply until you can THINK.
This framework applies both online and in the real world. If what you’re about to say doesn’t tick the boxes, don’t say it. Take 3 deep breaths, and walk away.
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