How can we Mind the Light while communicating "at the speed of light"?

Hello Friends,

Over the last five years Friends' use of email and other electronic communication has changed drastically in my monthly and quarterly meeting.  My quarterly meeting has a website and my monthly meeting has a Facebook page! For the most part, this helps us be more efficient and take advantage of popular and convenient modes of communication.  Here is what I'm struggling with:  I can handle it if my boss expects me to check my email twice a day and respond ASAP; I can't handle it when someone on a Quaker committee expects to respond that fast to their email about approving meeting minutes!  I want and need my interactions with Friends -- electronic and otherwise--to help me slow down and be mindful.  In the last year especially, I have become increasingly distraught at how much electronic communication I do in my life.  I can't help but wonder -- is something suffering here? Are my relationships --personal and business--impacted by a lack of voice or face to face communication?  I admit, I'm one of those people who will sometimes read an email five times, imagining the person saying it with five different tones of voice, trying to guess what they are really saying.  Sometimes I feel old fashioned when I ask employers or coworkers to discuss certain things in person instead of via email.  Yet at the same time, I feel a strong need to take a stand for mindful electronic communication.  I find it ironic and illuminating that we can text, email, tweet, post, blog or Skype  "at the speed of light" yet how do we actually Mind the Light in these modern activities that threaten to sweep even the most centered Friend away on a wave of fast paced communication? 


I would appreciate hearing Friends' thoughts and tips on this issue.  This post is the start of an article I'm writing for my quarterly newsletter.  I also am compiling a simple list of guidelines that Quaker meetings and committees could use to Mind the Light while using electronic communication.

Views: 68

Comment by Barra Jacob-McDowell on 7th mo. 15, 2011 at 12:22am

There's a Jewish story about a woman who insists on gossiping, refusing to believe or acknowledge that her hasty words could possibly cause trouble, yet she relishes collecting and repeating (and perhaps embellishing) some of those rumors and speculations. Neighbors, friends and family members protest; she ignores them. The Rabbi cautions her, and she promises to think before she speaks...but the temptation is too great, and she insists that words are just words, doing no harm. Finally, one windy March day, the Rabbi orders her to come to the marketplace with her best pillow. Pleased, because it is very fine and plump, its cover displaying her handiwork, she obeys. The Rabbi hands her a pair of scissors. "Cut it open," he commands. Carefully she slits one seam. "Now shake it!" Feathers fly, eddying and swirling on the currents of air around them. "Now gather up every feather!" She tries, but cannot. "It is the same with your words," the Rabbi tells her. "They go far and fast, beyond catching."

I learned that story when I was in my early 40s, and felt its truth. Haven't we all spoken out of turn? Havent we all been tempted to embroider on the facts? (And I'm a professional storyteller!)

My experiences of being bullied when I was a little girl caused me to know that "words can never hurt me" simply isn't true--but it also usually restrains me from saying hurtful things, because I don't want such things said to me. Not always--sometimes I am insensitive and hasty, but such memories do sometimes put a stop in my mind. One of the problems with our faster communication is that it IS so fast--have we really fully digested something, or is it and others' comments about issues sweeping us up into/along on  a tide of emotion instead of thought, of responding before we really digest the matters? Does the sheer volume that has to be read cause us to be less balanced in our approach/reactions to them? So many of us have x number of "friends" on social and other media whom we have never met. It dawned on me this mornng that I have been on 1 listerv since its inception 22 years ago! And that is a double-sided thing: on one hand, I have been blessed with being part of an expert and supportive community that shares an interest and passion with me, providing much information, a chance to give what I can, encouragement and understanding of my endeavors, and several good friends whom I feel I really know well from private conversations as well as public ones. But on the other, I have seen some "flame wars" that can verge on the vicious and polarizing, and realize that very often those who are most vociferous are not willing to listen to any other view than their own, do not scruple to sneer at their opponents, and/or perhaps misinterpret others' responses or protest that they have been misinterpreted and never meant to malign or hurt anyone else. But it is very easy to misread text, particularly since we can't hear the tone of voice (I have no experience with Skype).  Thank  you for giving me so much food for thought!

Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 11:43am

Electronic communication is useful but we need to be mindful of it's limitations. When we aren't looking into another's face, words can sometimes flow too freely.There's no ability to stop the words, sink into worship together and find where we are truly lead.


Comment by Rick Seifert on 7th mo. 23, 2011 at 2:33pm
Just by chance I recently wrote of a related concern on my blog, The Red Electric ( I shared an idea, not original to me, that the communication medium we use changes the content, how we perceive it and ultimately who we are. Vis. Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan. The question we both seem to be asking is: How has instant internet communication among Friends changed us and the way we go about business?


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