Media and Messages

In the last couple of decades, new communication methods—new ways of sending messages—have poured into our lives. With these come qualms, reservations, and fears that the dangers of these devices and methods outweigh the benefits.

But distrust of new means of communication is nothing new.

In his dialogue Phaedrus (c.130 B.C.) Plato records Socrates’ laments concerning the new trend of writing. He feared that literacy will make us less wise: “Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), that great advocate of simplicity, had little regard for new inventions—including the telegraph: “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

Many eschewed the telephone when it first came into common use, fearing that it would exterminate face-to-face visits.

Even radio was suspect. Some thought it would kill music; others thought it would kill the effectiveness of presidential speech.

When the television was invented, people feared that literacy would suffer.

And so on.

Some of these fears were well founded, yet media are here to stay.

Meanwhile, communication methods continue to evolve. Each, despite it benefits, cause some to worry about its downsides:

E-mail (already becoming passé) is impersonal and can be too hastily sent with too little time between thought and message.

Facebook is addictive.

Texting is robbing our ability act as literate beings.

Twitter is limited to 140 characters. Should important thoughts be reduced to such short snippets?

Snapchat enables a user to open and send a photo with a few simple hand gestures. The time between thought and message is reduced to almost nothing.

Why does all of this matter? According to a Longitudinal Study of American Youth, young adults are now as likely to connect with friends, family, and coworkers online or via text as they are in person. This type of technology feels natural to those who grew up with it; besides, texting, tweeting, e-mailing, Facebook, and the like work well for busy people. These technologies can be useful and are not inherently corrupt.

On the Isle of Estillyen, messages matter. Words matter. The media’s influence matters. The Estillyen monks offer a probing, questioning commentary regarding the modern onslaught of words, images, and sounds. They investigate what it means to navigate for meaning in this swirl of messages.

Like writing, telephones, and television, some new media methods are here to stay, at least for a while. Their benefits will remain, as will their weaknesses. It will continue to be up to the users to navigate for meaning as they send and receive messages.

What messages do you want to convey? Which media are best suited for them?

Words Matter

Messages from Estillyen rings with the message that words matter, some more than most. Why do words have so much power? Why do they matter so?

In Chapter 20, the monks of Estillyen address this question at the beginning of the reading “Let Them Go!”

READER: A letter written but never sent, never read—should it be called a letter? A speech drafted and tucked away, never spoken, never heard—is it truly a speech? A composition never played, never sung, perhaps swept away by fire—how is it to be described? What’s to be said of the ashy notes? Is it a burnt melody, or something else?

In order for all three to be what they were intended, it seems that the letter should be read, the speech heard, and the composition played. If this they’re not, then something else they are. Their original intent they failed to become. They are undone, unsung, never spoken, never sent.

Similarly, a word cannot claim to be a word if it’s only a thought.

… Words enable thoughts to get dressed, come out, and speak their mind. As a word, a thought is no longer indisposed, undisclosed. It has entered the world. It is a word.

… Words are thought descriptors. They project thoughts from anonymity. They transfer thoughts into messages. Messages move the world.

Words are important because they bridge thought and message. Flowing words unleash messages that cannot be reversed.

What thoughts have become words whose messages moved the world?

Which of these thoughts were dressed in words appropriately? Which ones were not, sending destructive messages?

Words matter, some more than most.