I read an article online this morning by Angela Epstein where she describes how upset she is that she received condolences by text. She is astounded that in this day and age, people think it’s appropriate to contact her at such a traumatic time by text. She argues that texts are sent in only a matter of moments, by people waiting for the train on the way to work for example, and they can’t possibly have any gravitas to them or have any real thought or feeling behind them.
She is affronted that people think it acceptable to send a text instead of either visiting or making a phone call, or even sending a card, and sending a greeting digitally is wholly inappropriate.
As I read her argument I found myself thinking about the wider use of texting and how different it has made our everyday communication from say that of the Victorians. I am deliberately using an extreme here to illustrate what I’m thinking, and I’m thinking in very broad terms too so please bear with me.
In the 19th Century, it was not unusual for people to send letters and notes to each other at all times of the day and for all types of reasons. Later, when the telephone was invented, the amount of written personal communication lessened as people found a telephone call was quicker, guaranteed to reach the correct person and was less time consuming than writing a letter.
Prince Albert had introduced the concept of sending greetings cards at Christmas way back in 1843 and I suppose it could be argued that that was the start of the multi-million pound industry we know today. Of course nowadays there are cards for every occasion – birthdays, weddings, birth announcements, baptisms, engagements, good luck, congratulations, exam success, graduation, sympathy for example – and the list is seemingly endless. We send each other cards for all sorts of things and on all sorts of days, and I think by and large they are gratefully welcomed and received.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got boxes and bags of cards in the loft that I’ve saved from when the children were born and baptised, from mine and Kevin’s milestone birthdays etc, and to be frank I am a bit stuck with them. Whilst they are very nice keepsakes, in reality they are just taking up room and present a bit of a fire-hazard. I’d love to get rid of them but I don’t feel that I can because people have taken the time to write them to us. Would I have preferred those messages to come to me by text or on Facebook instead?
On reflection I think I would. As an adult now, I usually get a card on my birthday from my immediate family. In the days before Facebook and widespread texting I would have had birthday greetings from a very small pool of people, maybe a dozen or so. This year – and it wasn’t even a milestone year – I received birthday greetings from more than 120 people on Facebook alone. I was extremely touched that so many people thought enough of me to leave me a birthday comment as they whizzed through their news feed and typed a few words of greeting.
My children were born in the days before Facebook communication was so commonplace, but I see now that my friends announce pregnancies and births there and receive huge amounts of messages and comments of support, and congratulations etc. I can see that this is a far more visible amount of support given at those key moments in life and I feel that it really does matter. I myself have offered congratulations to people who have got married who I don’t consider myself close enough to to send a card, but who I want to offer my support for their big day.
The same can be said for people who are facing the negative milestones in life. People are quite open to sharing illnesses and injuries in public and generally speaking there is a large amount of support and sympathy offered online. Again, I have offered my support to people who I wouldn’t consider myself close enough to go and visit or send a card (I wouldn’t know the addresses of most of my online friends for a start) and I have received that same support myself in return. I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all to receive messages via my computer or my mobile and I am as buoyed up by support expressed that way as much as I would be by a phone call or a visit.
I have offered condolences for other people’s losses too. I have sent text messages and online messages, and I have received them too. I honestly feel so much better for having that support in the digital world and I would like to think that the people sending messages – even brief ones sent on their way to work – really mean them.
So is it wrong for Amanda Epstein to get upset that people sent her text messages to express their sympathy when her mother died? How would she feel if people felt sympathy for her but didn’t express it because they didn’t know where to send a card? How would she feel if they felt it briefly but then forgot about her before they had a chance to express it in writing? Would she be more grateful for the texts and emails she received if she thought that people only sent them because they meant them? Is she hinting that people send condolences by text as a bit of a cop-out, the cowardly option instead of facing her?
If she were my friend and complaining about sympathy expressed digitally then I would certainly think twice before I sent her another. Wouldn’t you?!
So what do you think? Are you for digital greetings, or are you for traditional hand-written or in-person ones? Do you think it’s a generational thing and it’s a “young persons trend”? Do you keep hold of your greetings cards from year to year as keepsakes, or do you throw them out when the holiday/occasion has passed?
I’m interested to know what you think about it and whether this journalist was right to get upset in these circumstances. Please leave me a comment with your thoughts.