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I miss my pen pal

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Peter Thompson

I was in Toronto in July at the Asigra conference. I find that whilst traveling, I always manage to discover something different, adapt some new angle or find the abstract in our fast moving society.

I tend to look at postcards and think should I send one to someone? And then I think, well that’s just too hard and where would I find a pen anyway. I couldn’t remember the last time I received a letter via the post. Probably over the past decade I have received the odd birthday card complete with an envelope and a stamp.

I guess it’s the changing face of the world. It’s a great example of how technology is affecting traditional practises in everyday society and business too. It is, in some ways, adjusting the social dynamic of human interaction. Whether it proves to be positive or not, only time will tell, but there is one thing for sure – the entire psychology of communication is adjusting so quickly that it’s hard to keep up even for people like me who work in the IT and marketing services sectors.

I wasn’t an adult at the time when the common practise was to use the regular post. People used to send someone a letter and wait for a reply to arrive, sometime in the future. As a young boy, I did once have an Irish pen pal (a term for someone you sent and received written communication with but possibly never knew,  today’s equivalent of a Facebook friend) that I never met.

I remember getting a few letters with an overseas stamp, some photos developed at a photo lab and a handwritten letter. Wow, what a rush that was at the time. And given that it would take about a month to write, send and have delivered a new letter, it would be two months in between receiving letters from my pen pal. But, that’s just how it was. I saved the letters in a drawer often returning back to try and imagine how a life in Ireland looked like. There wasn’t much else to do then, apart from running around outside, having fun with other kids.

I keep getting amazed at the plethora of applications for my phone. It is truly remarkable and in many ways annoying too. I don’t think I am a power user of “apps” on my phone, but at last count there were about 40 installed. I am getting a bit tired of learning apps, remembering logins and responding to the constant updates, both automated and from people using those applications. I am never sure whether these new apps accessing my other apps data and my location makes me feel that good.

Applications are coming out continuously, gaining momentum, growing user bases and disappearing just as fast. Even at GCOMM, we find ourselves changing methods of attempting to communicate with customers. One moment it’s Pinterest, the next Disqus, the next Facebook, then it’s Google plus and well…whatever is the flavour of the month that seems really important.

Today, we are supposed to be connected all the time.  We expect people to be connected and they expect us to be the same. We want instant gratification, instant replies, instant appreciation of our photos, our comments, remarks and so on. Now I have email, Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, Facetime, SMS (which is quickly fading as a relevant communication medium) and people get offended when I don’t reply instantly. That’s because, I don’t like it. My fingers weren’t designed to easily type on a keyless screen.

Just think for a second, when you send someone a message and they don’t reply almost instantly, do you sometimes feel annoyed, rejected or experience some other negative emotion?

Maybe I’m old fashioned. I like to give people my attention in person. When I am with someone at a given moment, I want to give them my complete attention.

Sometimes, I don’t want to carry my phone with me.

I want to have some peace and not try and conduct more than one conversation at the same time. You see, I always thought that it was a rude thing to do. I find it hard to talk to someone who is constantly playing with their phone. I feel like if our time together is not worthy of being dedicated and focused, why spend any time together at all?

I have been in situations at a dinner table with a group of people who were all continuously looking at their phones, answering messages, replying to different applications installed on their phone and iPad’s.  Actually no one was having a conversation with the people present but rather with people who weren’t even there. It’s odd how it makes you feel as an observer.

What is the point of getting together at all if you have no plan of spending time talking with them either individually or as a group?

I did have a conversation with a retired legal colleague who was telling me how they used to draft contracts before fax, email and computers. The reason I asked is because I see lawyers mark up each other’s work or challenge clauses. I wondered how did they do that before word processing. He said for each iteration of the contract that a different coloured pen would be used. I must admit, that must have been pretty painful and I am glad we have gone past that point.

Sure, it’s fast paced change. It just keeps speeding up.

All my bills come in on the 15th of the month. I am amazed they still write to me.

I only check my letter box once a month. That says something doesn’t it.

I miss my pen pal.

♦ End

About Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson founded GCOMM in 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering/Information Systems from Griffith University and his MBA from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Holland. He believes in building great teams of people, both in business and socially.
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