Daily Archives: March 17, 2014

When words have no meaning

Do you remember the last time you wrote a letter….? I mean with a pen and paper, folded into an envelope and finished with a stamp in the top corner?

If you have read (or watched) Downton Abbey, or in fact any Jane Austin or similar period drama, you will know that a letter was always something of a special event. Receiving a letter demanded that you spend time reflecting on its contents and the sender’s frame of mind, before carefully considering your response. You would weigh up the situation and quite possibly ask advice before committing pen to paper in reply, often several days later. The fact that letters took time to compose and time to deliver, encouraged you to take the time to consider. You didn’t expect to receive or send many letters and the value of each letter was incredibly high. Now although this all seems a long time ago, it’s probably not that long since you were writing “real letters” (…. and maybe you still do ) and each letter you wrote had value.

Sownton Dinner

Contrast that today with the ballooning email inboxes most people have. The situation is exactly the reverse. A “wall of email” appears when you start up your laptop, each one having relatively little value, sometimes no value. In fact, to use some old mathematics speak, as the number of our emails tends to infinity, the value of each email tends to zero. In my job I get several walls of email every day, and during busy periods, eg before a major event, this can rise relentlessly. Of course much of this is junk. Like me you may actively “block senders” and “unsubscribe” from everything going, but we still have swathes of emails that need some kind of action. The normal behaviour is to try and bat them away with a single-line response, or better forward them to someone else to do something with… someone else’s problem. The aim is just to get them away, to delete them as soon as we can, any way any how…. Hence the value of each email approaches zero.

Many companies and organisations have identified email as a killer to peoples’ productivity, relationships and social well-being. Many have tried to find solutions either by using techniques or tools or just banning email use for one day a week. But, aside from productivity, email has a number of other associated problems and, like any disruptive technology is responsible for new social trends.

  • Email encourages insensitive comments that people would simply not make face to face. Probably most of us have received (and sent?) emails that contain statements you simply would not say if that person was standing next to you. Email can de-humanise communications making us believe we are interacting with a machine,rather than a person. These days when I receive an email that makes my blood boil, I am learning not to reply instantly and emotively.

Proverbs 10:19: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

  • Email encourages people in the view that there is no need to pick up the phone, much less talk to people face to face. ….. When was the last time you replied to an email by picking up the phone?

Proverbs 12:18: Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

  • Email encourages us to be online 24×7. Email always triggers further email, and often the reply is INSTANT – it’s so easy to reply, and hard not to. Sometimes on a business trip in a different time zone, being connected 24×7 can be genuinely useful but mostly it is not useful, it is just exhausting. The problem is, once you send that quick response late at night, the recipient sees you are online, introduces some new question, and suddenly, you’re immersed.

Proverbs 17 38: Even a fool is thought wise if he remains silent, discerning if he holds his tongue!


I am first to admit that I have fallen prey to every one of these, but I am trying to learn. I can’t remember the last time I wrote to a letter. These days I don’t even insert those notes into Christmas cards (…..I suppose because Alison writes all my Christmas cards), but I know I used to write long letters, to friends and family.

The funny thing is …. we seem to have come full circle. Just as on the Edwardian set of Downton Abbey, these days if you receive a hand-written letter, in an envelope, with a stamp …. that is, once again, a special event!

James 1:26: If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless

Chris Goswami is Director of Marketing and Communications for a Silicon Valley based company, and Minister In Training in the UK. He blogs on www.7minutes.net