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What did you learn in elementary school? 

I learned that restroom stalls are where people write messages to one another.  Nothing worth reading – just some crude jokes.  There was never a shortage of invitations to make a phone call to someone’s mom for a good time.  I never dropped a deuce in those stalls, far worse; I allowed my head to poke around the door (albeit to your benefit some 36 years later).

What did you learn serving with the Marine Corps?

Funny you should ask.  I learned that people still write on stall doors.  I guess every elementary school must teach this tribal knowledge because Marines from all walks of life still participate.  I’ve been obliged to employ a Porta-John a time or two during field exercises.  Reading material was conveniently etched in black marker all over the walls to include phallic sketches and phone numbers posted for a “good time.”  I recall one list that stretched from floor to ceiling asking participants to describe their poo with a movie title.  Some of the answers were downright funny.  But at the end of the day was still just kids writing on a wall.

How does that apply today in 2020?

Our stalls are no longer limited to enclosures around commodes; nevertheless, the comments can be just as grotesque as the putrid smell at a truck stop.  Think of the last time you scrolled through the comments section of controversial topic.  Did it feel rewarding, educational, and thought provoking?  Or, did it feel depressing, divisive, and dehumanizing?

THE CHALLENGE:  Every day we are being nickel and dimed for our time.  So, before your hourglass gets pick pocketed by a few comments here, some click bait there, trendy advertisements and subtle spam, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”  Consider how much time adds up in this futile effort day after day, year after year.  If you don’t have to go, stay out of the stall!  After all, it’s just a bunch of kids writing on the wall.  (I apologize in advance if you identify as an adult and got offended.) 

SAY IT MO BETTA

I’m guilty of it too.

You record a YouTube video and at the end remind your audience, “don’t forget to subscribe and smash that like button.”

I hear this invitation on most videos and therefore “gots ta tell ya, there’s a way to say it mo betta”…or PLEASE, not at all!  By the way, the like button is not a bug so there will be no “smashing” of buttons to begin with.  Second of all, no one in the history of the internet (not very long, but still) has ever “forgot” to subscribe to your YouTube channel.  Think about it, when is the last time you turned your car around or pulled off to the side of the road because you forgot to subscribe?  Never, ever, ever.

Somehow this seems to be a modern day equivalent to, “How are you doing today?”  Rarely is that inquiry authentic.  The response is even more half-baked.

Invitations are a very peculiar thing.  You either shouldn’t be asking for them, or nobody wants to accept.  For example, “Will you be my friend?”  “Will you be attracted to me?”  “Will you love me?”  These are very elementary.  We all know that they take care of themselves.  It’s just nature doing her thing.  If someone likes your YouTube video that much, they are going to give it a cat call like two dogs sniffing butts.  (Would you say that sentence is raining cats and dogs?  Sorry – I digress)   It’s going to happen without your assistance.  On the other hand, “We need everyone to participate in the next homeowners association meeting.” is an invitation that might not go over so well.

So what is a good invitation?  People tend to help when it’s something that takes little effort and minimal commitment.  For example, “Will you take our photo?”  “Would you mind holding the door for me?”  “Can you save my spot in line?”

THE CHALLENGE:  Think about what you are asking other people to do.  Words have meaning.  Don’t spray your audience with invitations “just because.”

Paper Text

Do you remember when business cards were in vogue?  Okay, maybe you still use them (but not for long). How about Trapper Keepers or My Pet Monster?

Who doesn’t periodically reminisce on trends from the past? So many things have come and gone. I wonder why they have to go. Why were my favorite cartoons not good enough to catch on? Why don’t my kids know what a G.I. Joe is? Why did music change so radically? Is this because of contract obligations, licensing agreements or the rising generation’s need to be original? I guess I will never know.

Long before the digital age we used to “email” by putting pen to paper. We had pen-pals! Life was so slow that we would actually write strangers (sometimes across the globe)  as part of our school work. It would take many days or even weeks before getting a response.

Our “text message” used to be a physical note passed during class when the teacher wasn’t looking. Sometimes the note was exchanged in the hallway or slipped into someone’s locker. I’m not sure if the youth still do this, but I imagine the great majority of communication is via smart phone.

Today (during a meeting) I received a text message.  It was a photo of a study guide and an emoji – thumbs up.  My response was also an emoji – baby bottle. Except to the senders, both messages were vague, cloudy and superficial…ESPECIALLY mine!

I later wondered what this communication would have looked like in an “old school” format. If we put pencil to paper and passed it along, I believe the message would have been much different. The “smart” phones that we rely so heavily upon do a really good job at keeping us “not-so-smart”. We get so used to taking shortcuts that we often slice off the horn of our entire message! On the flip side, sometimes we replace “chat” with “text“. Though, these should never be confused. Our time evaporates typing a lengthy message that would otherwise only take a few seconds to speak.

Class notes were somewhat ideal, given their era. In general terms, they required two way communication. The receiver was usually happy to receive the memo. The message was sufficiently succinct. Dialogue was often very open – just consider all the blushing faces when the teacher would snatch a note off of someone’s desk!

THE CHALLENGE: If applicable, think back to your school days. If notes were as easy as text messaging is now, who would you ping? What would you write? Do you wish there was someone you had sent a note/message to but didn’t?

Next time you are in a meeting, think about who you might want to message. If the gathering happens to be with a group of strangers you can skip the whole business card thing and just ask for their number. Tell them you might reach out for their opinion during the lecture or conference.

Forget the “status updates.” Forget the spam! Nobody cares about “the weather.” What clear message can you send? How can you add value? If this were a handwritten note, would it be different? How so? What meaningful dialogue can you start? Consider that our present text messaging age will eventually be a thing of the past, something future bloggers will reminisce over. Will you wish you had established a friendship with someone while you still had frenzied fingers?

Maybe the opposite is true. For you social butterflies, maybe you need to cut back. Almost every note passed now is “caught by the teacher.” The teacher is social media.  The teacher is your profile. The chalkboard is now digital and our names are on it. Are your kids wondering why you pass notes all day instead of paying attention in class? Where is your middle ground? I challenge you to find it and exploit it!

Photo by hundrednorth