Recently, I was called into a parent-teacher conference for my second grader. I’m blessed by both a student that loves to learn and a pair of educators that truly care for the wellbeing and advancement of my child. During our discussion, they were gracious enough to point out a number of areas where my son is performing and some where he could use a nudge. Mathematics/reading – at or above grade level. Writing and penmanship – leaves something to be desired (what can I say – it must be genetic). As we discussed ways of improving his ability to write, my mind started wandering to a place where I questioned even the necessity of neat penmanship. After all, how many memos is he going to handwrite in his lifetime? In fact, the majority of his communication won’t likely take place in full sentences… or even use words/letters at all! KWIM? They then proceeded to show me a few other example lessons on communication that made more sense in the 21st century digital age.
One that’s worth noting – Show Respect Online – Check Before You Send. The lesson clearly outlines a few steps to help with a challenge that’s as old as the internet: Firing off an emotionally charged email without considering the impact (intended or not) on the recipient’s end. This really isn’t something that our cave dwelling predecessors had to worry about thirty-thousand years ago. Those viewing their cave drawings and symbols weren’t likely to overreact to a depiction of the latest mammoth hunt. Or an account of the prior season’s bounty. Even if there was objectionable material, very few would witness the picture/writings on the cave wall. The consequences of improper communication in the digital age are far more dire – which is why some of the suggestions in the short second grade lesson should be ingested by many in the professional world. Here are a few sage-like tips:
- Take a deep breath and review what you wrote – not just for spelling, grammar, etc. but read it for intent; is it saying what you wish to convey?
- Would you say it to someone’s face? – regardless of the mode (text, email, post, etc.) it’s going to come without context and is left up to the recipient’s interpretation. Additionally, it’s also going to be in a form that can be/will be preserved as long as portals like the Wayback Machine exist (kinda creepy if you ask me). Again, not something our ancestors that sent smoke signals to the neighboring village needed to be concerned with.
- Did you mean to use ‘SHOUTY CAPs’ ? Or was the caps lock key just stuck? Certain punctuation and font effects can be useful in calling attention to specific elements within a given passage. They can also have unintended consequences if used inadvertently or improperly. Something seemingly innocuous like: What’s the issue today? Versus WHAT’S THE ISSUE TODAY? can be interpreted completely differently by the reviewer.
I’m thrilled that information like this is being shared formally, even before my son dives into the world of digital communication. I’m sure he’ll make mistakes – as we all have (like sending a personal/emotional message to a listserv of 8000+ scientists from across the globe) – but he’ll be far better prepared to manage communication as a digital native than I was as a technology immigrant.