Decent prose is fast becoming technology’s latest victim. The ease and speed with which we fire off electronic mail ensures its casualty, and that casualty has become an excuse for (and cause of) garbled syntax, jumbled thoughts, and a pubescent reliance on those silly avatars of abbreviated mood called “emoticons.” This is all terrible news.
The murder of reasonable expectations of style aside, untamed technology leads also to sloth and distance. Millions of children scamper home to check their e-mail and participate in “chat room” discussions, where once they involved themselves in extra-curricular clubs and athletics. Young adults discard markets for online shopping, hasty e-mails stand in for carefully composed letters and actual conversations, and text messages substitute for casual interaction. The whole thing is a mess.
True, technology is a miracle of efficiency. Without it, you couldn’t read this. Whereas once telegrams took days to announce important decisions, now news moves at a lightning-fast clip around the world. Small towns, formerly dependant on the local Gazette, Citizen, or Mirror, now read the Wall Street Journal for (nearly) free every morning, online. Scientific advances spread quickly, old friends are re-connected with, and business is conducted on a global scale, at tremendous savings.
But there is, or should be, more involved in life than efficiency. There should too be style, verve, and adventure. E-mails are hardly the tactile or emotional equivalent of hand-written letters on good paper, folded and sealed in an envelope. “Firing off” a resume to a boss is a far cry from recommending a new hire over drinks in the club billiards room. Are these ways antiquated? Probably. Out-dated? Likely. Quaint? Almost certainly. And terribly worthwhile? Obviously. There is a pleasure in doing things the proper way, instead of the efficient way, whenever possible because that way most often involves a personal style that adds a richness and vibrancy to those tasks. The point of propriety isn’t ease and efficiency; that’s technology’s racket. The point of propriety is personal style.
Consider wearing a blazer when a t-shirt will do, and a tie when it’s not required. Learn more than one tie knot. Try writing thank-you letters, and all letters, by hand. Mail them… with stamps. Match your socks, and think about what kind of belt matches your shoes. Provide for the time necessary to disconnect, to savor anything, and then do it with style. And if nothing else, avoid the damn emoticons.