When we change the way we communicate, we change society

― Clay Shirky

Over the weekend a good friend of my wife (her best friend from childhood) was going through a box of mementos and came across letters my wife wrote her over thirty years ago while they were in college. One of the letters was written shortly after my wife and I started dating. In the letter she expressed herself honestly to her friend, and the results were stunning. My reaction to reading it was the same as my wife, an outpouring of emotion in seeing her feelings about me so earnestly expressed. It was remarkable, and incredibly touching. It was like looking back in time and seeing yourself through today’s eyes.

This morning I began to wonder could this happen to a couple starting out today, thirty years from now. The sort of letter my wife wrote doesn’t get written today. We have Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging and e-mail. We don’t write letters with the expectation that no answer will come for days to weeks. Because communications like these can be so easily and cavalierly forwarded or seen by others, the honesty and emotion is usually lacking. As such, the communications are a bit less intense or memorable. Perhaps we aren’t as honest with others or ourselves about things.

Current communications also don’t have the staying power of the letter. They don’t get saved. I can’t lay my hands on emails much older than six or seven years back, and usually less. I wonder how much of history is getting lost in the ephemeral way we communicate. It is worth considering. Generally, I am unabashed in my enthusiasm about technology, but this episode gave me pause. Maybe we don’t even realize what we’ve lost. We have gained a lot, but we may have lost a bit of our soul.

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