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  • Holly Blum, The Word Whisperer

Are We Losing The Ability To Express Ourselves With Words?

When reading the latest issue of Real Simple, I came across an interesting article, Old-Fashioned Niceties That Deserve a Comeback, which listed hand-written letters and thank you notes at the top of the list. This got me thinking back to the time when using pen and paper to express feelings and gratitude was the norm. This was when most everyone had a set of personalized stationery and the supply was regularly depleted.

Today, hand-written notes are almost archaic. Yes, my 8- and 10-year old daughters write thank you notes to friends and family for gifts received, but they do so begrudgingly. They often ask me why they cannot just email or text the gift giver to say thank you. They say their hands hurt from physically writing out so many notes. I say that nothing can take the place of a handwritten note, especially when it comes from the heart. I know they are rolling their eyes behind my back.

Another nicety that needs to re-emerge is the art of conversation. There has been a lot of talk about the impact of technology— particularly with the rise of social media and texting— on our ability to communicate. As a society, we spend so much time staring at our phone screens that we forget to look around and see what is happening. Half the time we are on our phones while trying to converse with someone in the same room, avoiding eye contact and getting easily distracted by text tones, alert noises and other notifications. We have a strict “no devices at the kitchen table” policy in our house, but I wonder whether this is enough to make a difference.

Some suggest that the rise of emojis is contributing to the death of the written language. This is not so far-fetched a theory. People are increasingly relying on emojis to communicate feelings. These shortcuts are fine when used to add a little whimsy to a conversation, but all too often, they are being used to replace words all together. Then, what? Are we headed toward the age of the pictorial symbol? Haven’t we evolved beyond hieroglyphics?

As a professional word whisperer, the phasing out of words is extremely scary. If we can’t write a note or have a conversation, the challenge of delivering a speech or presentation becomes almost insurmountable. Human beings are way too complicated and emotional to rely strictly on technology for interpersonal communication. Words carry way too much power and magic to be distilled down to smiley faces and thumbs up signs.

Let’s return to the time when what you said and how you expressed yourself mattered. I’m not suggesting abandoning your smart phone (although sometimes I’d like to). I’m suggesting baby steps toward more meaningful interactions. For example, next time you need to say thank you, surprise someone with a hand-written note. Next time a friend reaches out via email or text to catch up, surprise them with a phone call or (gasp) an in-person visit. Next time you are celebrating an anniversary, write your spouse a love letter. Next time your child wants to play video games, suggest writing a story together. Who knows? You might just discover what I learned long ago…words really do make the world go ‘round.

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