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The Power of Non-Instantaneous Communication

By Amy Weinland Daughters

The widespread use of email beginning in the 1990s followed by the emergence of text messaging in the new millennium dramatically transformed the culture of communication.

The change was so impactful that it ultimately altered the way we relate to one another.

But before branding technology as the criminal that brought down human interaction, let’s get real — along with all that’s gone wrong, so much has also gone right.

Suddenly, almost miraculously (if you think yourself back to the 1980s and earlier) we went from waiting days for information to knowing what was going on, anywhere in the world, in real time.

Businesses could be run more efficiently; potential disasters could be completely avoided and those who needed help could receive it more quickly.

Even better — the advancements could be utilized by individuals; one-on-one, person-to-person. Magically, we could be in touch with more of our people, instantly, more of the time!

We finally knew what was really going on.

Add in the ability to filter, edit and time stamp our messages and communication had never been more polished nor efficient.

Finally, the innovation wasn’t and isn’t just for the rich and mighty — no, email and texting were and are, for the most part, cost effective. Factor in that the combo was also the first couple of punches that brought down expensive long-distance calling, and it could be argued that instant communication improved the household bottom line.

But, as has been well advertised “for everything you gain, you lose something.” While those are the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson — who likely never had an email account or a burner phone — they’ve never rang truer.

What if the act of participating in the necessary, and now compulsory, practice of electronic communication has forced us to relinquish certain freedoms, a series of rights we didn’t even know we had?

Freedom from Expectations

Not having a clue when someone receives or reads a message you send is liberating.

As humans, we are wired to anticipate a response from someone we reach out to. Electronic, instantaneous communication — which allows our words to be read immediately — heightens the expectation for such a response.

While subtle, the impact is deeply rooted and can result in us questioning ourselves and our message. Why hasn’t the recipient responded? Did I say it the wrong way? Is the recipient upset with me? I KNOW that they read it — it’s marked received!

The experience can leave us feeling isolated, an emotion that seems almost impossible given our electronic/technological ability to be “in touch” with hundreds of people at the same time.

Beyond that, and perhaps even more perilous, has instant communication convinced us that the only way to validate that we’ve made a difference is to receive an immediate reply?

Non-instantaneous communication lets us off the hook because we have no idea what happens next. That doesn’t mean, of course, that our words weren’t everything to someone.

Freedom from Immediacy

Non-instantaneous communication affords us the opportunity to think about what we’re saying before saying it, and the time to consider others’ words/thoughts without the pressure to respond within the moments or hours required in electronic interaction.

The result is a more open, deeply thought-out form of communication. In old-school letter writing thoughts, updates and feelings can cross in the mail. There is no way to respond in real time. The resulting overlapping creates an even bigger sense of freedom.

The Freedom to Forget

Non-instantaneous communication allows us to lose track of what we’ve said. We can write our thoughts and feelings down, put them in an envelope and drop them in the mail. By the time the recipient reads our words, seven-plus days later, we’ll likely have forgotten the details of what we wrote. Knowing this frees us from worrying about the readers’ potential reaction.

It’s like a Dear Diary entry, only it will be read, if we choose our target carefully, by a trusted friend or companion. It will physically pass from our hands to theirs, where they can give it the same thoughtful consideration that it was written with.

The Freedom to See Your Life from the Outside Looking In

Writing letters doesn’t only give the recipient a window into our world; it allows us to view our own life from the perspective of an outsider. Writing it all down, within the safe and freeing confines of nonelectronic communication, gives us the rare opportunity to connect dots that we didn’t even know needed connecting.

It’s a whole new perspective on our own reality.

— Amy Weinland Daughters

Amy Weinland Daughters is a freelance sportswriter and author. Her second book Dear Dana: That Time I Went Crazy and Wrote All 580 of my Facebook Friends a Handwritten Letter (She Writes Press) is due to be released May 17, 2022. Currently a resident of Tomball, Texas (a suburb of Houston), Amy and her family lived happily in the Dayton, Ohio, area for 13 glorious years.

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