Wednesday, November 26, 2014
November 26, 2014: 21st Century Thanks: Email
[For my annual Thanksgiving series, I thought I’d express my gratitude for some of the best of our 21st century digital age and what it has contributed to my work and life. I’d love to hear your thanks, for anything and everything, as well!]
On what’s not new about 21st century communication, and what is.
First, a confession: I’m an email addict. I think the addiction has served me well in my teaching—a number of students have remarked, in evals and elsewhere, on the speed with which I respond to their email questions and submissions; while I’m well aware of and sympathetic to the concerns about such email conversations, I also believe they’re an inescapable and integral part of 21st century teaching, and represent one of my strengths as an educator. But in my life more generally, I’ve had to find ways to take breaks from email accessibility, to put the iPhone away while spending time and playing with my boys, and so on. In this age of cell phones and smartphones, texts and voicemails, our constant appearance of availability can be a genuine problem, and thus learning to turn off that accessibility is a vital 21st century skill to be sure.
On the other hand, I think the differences between email and prior forms of communication can be and often are overstated. There’s a stereotypical image of hand-written letters, for example, that portrays them as meaningful and personal in a way that emails are not and could never be. While I understand that image as a contemporary contrast to emails, I would argue that anyone who reads letters written by historical and cultural figures will be struck instead by how much the majority of them tend to read like emails: intimate and immediate expressions of perspective and conversation, written not in formal prose but in personal voices, not for posterity (although some letters certainly were) but for their occasion and audience. As always, overly simplistic historical contrasts and comparisons need to be complicated and tempered, and I’d certainly make that case for critiques of emails in comparison to other forms of communication.
There are definite differences that email brings with it, however, and I would highlight one that has been very beneficial for my career: the ability to send messages to large groups of recipients at once. Having planned New England ASA colloquia and conferences, participated in the activites of the Northeast MLA Exec utive Board and the Encyclopedia of American Studies Editorial Board, and taken part in any number of group email conversations—as well as having used email lists to stay in touch with all of my classes at FSU—I can’t emphasize enough the benefits such communal conversations offer for every aspect of this profession. We—I—might have to learn to balance our emailing as part of our 21st century identities, but I’m deeply thankful for what the medium adds to my work and life.
Next thanks tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other AmericanThanks you’d share?