I’ve obsessed about words for thirty years. The first ten were spent in advertising agencies, weighing words heavily. Whether it was 30 seconds of radio, :60 of network TV or a full-page print ad in the New York Times, every word cost money and took up space. Every word was discussed and agonized over; words mattered—a lot.
We viewed our incredibly large platforms as a privilege and responsibility. We took our opportunity to speak seriously and cared deeply how the words impacted our culture and influenced consumers. Words still matter, even more so, because now more than ever before, it is cheaper and easier for millions more to see, read and hear our words.
In 1995, I went to law school where words mattered even more than that ad copy. Those legal words make up our Constitution and laws and influence our democratic and civilized society. When one reads the Constitution, the gravitas of every word the Framers selected is palpable. Learning to mediate in law school taught me that simply shifting even one word from judgmental to neutral in a conversation could minimize conflict. So once again, this reiterated that words matter a lot.
Over the last 20 years, we have become increasingly less worried about our words and it is concerning.
Social media apps like Twitter and texting have led to the use of abbreviated words or no words at all (emojis). Our fingers are doing the walking and talking and have been granted a lot of power. Where our respect for word use (and, sadly, too often each other) is concerned, social apps and texting have shot us in the foot and we are too addicted to walk away.
I challenge you to take a social media break for a day and reflect on what happens. I’m not saying do not answer your phone—I’m saying do not open an app, respond to a text or use social media. Talking on your phone is fine. You may have a discussion that you might not otherwise have had or, even better, end up having a face-to-face conversation.
You may not be able to put your finger on it or find the words to fully express it, but I’m willing to bet that you will feel better. I certainly do when I choose real, even difficult conversation over virtual dialog via my fingers. At the very least, I know it will cure your fear of missing out (or #FOMO in text speak).
In Dan Buettner’s book Blue Zones, he shares the common daily habits of clusters of populations around the world who live the longest, sometimes to 100. Big surprise—one of the habits is that they live in tight communities and enjoy long meals talking face-to-face and sharing together. (It’s probably a safe bet that they do not text each other to say “dinner’s ready!”)
I say treat yourself to more offline conversations. Speak with the privilege afforded to us in this country by our Founding Fathers—that you own your right to free (verbal!) speech and happiness. Not everyone enjoys these rights. Speak because you can.