Saturday, July 24, 2010

Consider This: The Power of Words

Prominent in the news this week was the story of USDA employee, Shirley Sherrod, who was fired after a blogger/commentator posted a video snippet of a speech she gave 20 years ago without first reviewing the entire speech. In other words, Ms. Sherrod's words were taken so far out of context that it ended in her being fired! Half truths compounded by irresponsible laxness in fact-finding, led to a major change in her life.

I am not encouraging a political discussion or even commentary on the media's failure to thoroughly investigate before broadcasting in this age of 24/7 news What I DO want to discuss is the art and science of communication in this technology driven, socially networked era.

A little personal history…
My own experience with internet communication began way back before the advent of the WWW, SocNets(social networks), and even email as we understand it today began while I was in the USN, using Arpanet to send email and files. Honestly, at the time I had no real understanding of how it worked. What I DID know is that what was sent was reviewed, edited and scrutinized by lots of folks before that button was pushed.

Later, while in college, I was doing research for a paper. Earlier, my first PC was a TRS80-III and now I needed something much better. With the new computer: a sign up floppy for CompuServe. Needless to say I now wanted a modem! The fastest out there was a 1200 Baud; and yes we used a phone line/dial up!

Inadvertently, I discovered an area of CompuServe called "CB Simulator". Essentially a group of "channels" of various interests, where people actually chatted Real-time! In case you're wondering-this was back in 1988 or so. OK so I'm aging myselfJ. (BTW, this is also where my beloved and I first met- A long time before eHarmony!)

More recently, I spend most mornings as a volunteer at CHURCH Online which features chat to accompany the Worship Experience. I serve with a great group of people from all over the world. To make it really exciting, we also get many who discover the ministry via AdWords after searching for uh, other things.

Many of our visitors and volunteers are relative newbies to Church Chat, though they often have experience with IM or some other text-based live chat application. Of course there's also FaceBook and Twitter, where we can share our lives in 140 characters or less!

In recent days, how we communicate in this chat has led me to discover what I believe is a problem in every day communication…which is not thinking before we share as well as not fully realizing that the people on the other end may take something we type in a way other than what was intended.

In the olden days when it was all ASCII text we used a lot of the same emoticons that are in use today. These little symbols coupled with abbreviations (<s>mile, <gr>in, etc) helped us to put our words in context, giving them the intended "flavor" we were trying to express. Additionally, fully understanding the ENTIRE conversation taking place was a given before pushing the ENTER key. In other words, scrolling back to see what was taking place before and ALWAYS keeping it in context.

Lessons from Scripture

James ( James 1:19 ) gave some great advice that I'd like to see practiced more often, in all our online communications: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry". Later, in James 3:1-12 he provides a lesson about how powerful our words can be.

What may seem a quick, "witty" line may be mis-understood by others new to the environment. While regulars know what is going on, visitors don't. Even those who frequent the room can be taken out of context by others who are also regulars, if they just entered.

The bottom line- THINK before you push that enter key! Be aware that the words you type may not be how others see and understand them. Get a grasp of the conversation in its entirety-not just the immediate lines you see. Consider how others who aren't familiar with you or the conversation may perceive your words.

Whether its Twitter, Facebook, IM, or a chat room consider your words! Philippians 4:8 is something to take to heart as we communicate, regardless of the medium. Following this advice can never go wrong!

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