The Pen and Paper in the Digital Age of Social Media


I wanted to start this blog post with a reference to a TED Talk by Hannah Brencher about love letters to strangers.


In an earlier blog post, I talked about my experience with working on a large SharePoint 2010 upgrade and migration project for a Fortune 500 company. I’ve told people stories about why the project became very successful despite the different challenges and difficulties that we encountered along the way. The secret lies in the great and wonderful people I’ve worked with – from the project manager, the engineers and even the application testers. The project has given me he opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with those involved.

Several weeks after the project went live, I was having a conversation with the project manager about the way we manage our relationships and dialogues we have with the people that matter to us. She mentioned the fact that even after celebrating her birthday just a few days ago, most of the greetings that she received were all in digital format – text messages, emails, Facebook messages, etc. The conversation concluded with the fact that greeting cards have now joined the ranks of dinosaurs and the Dodo bird on being extinct. I have to admit that while I like sending hand-written notes and letters to people, I save the reader the agony of reading my hand writing. I still remember the gruelling writing exercises that I had to go thru in grade school just to improve my hand writing – write, scribble, erase, write, and so the cycle goes. And while most people say that practice makes perfect, I just couldn’t get my hand writing right. I can’t even read my own hand writing sometimes that I always resort to typing my notes after meetings so I could legibly read and recall the ideas I wrote.

A few weeks ago, I sent the project manager and one of the application testers books that I think would be valuable to them.  Dr. John Maxwell’s book  – Everyone Communicates Few Connect  – was the latest book that I have read from the author and decided to send a copy to the project manager. For the application tester,  sent a copy of the SharePoint 2010 branding book because I believe that the book would be very helpful in her day-to-day job. Included with the book was a hand-written note thanking them for their contribution to the success of the project and described how the book would help them improve their productivity at work. I think I’ve scribbled on a few sheets of paper before finally tucking one inside the envelope and headed over the post office. I was more concerned about the recipients having a hard time reading my handwriting than the impact that it would have in their lives.

In today’s digital age where social media has taken over our modes communication, it’s so easy to take for granted the value of  inter-personal relationship. It still amazes me how people in the workplace would send an email response to a colleague that’s a few cubicles away rather than take a few steps and have a face-to-face conversation. Oh, those lovely email threads spanning multiple responses when it could have been made even clear with a phone call. Social media and the digital age only thrives because they leverage on the most important ingredient in the marketplace : PEOPLE. We humans desire to feel special and important. We love receiving feedback for the work that we do and long to be connected with the people that matter to us. That’s why people flock to Facebook and Twitter. We want to join conversations, share our uniqueness and simply feel validated. And that’s why I feel that the pen-and-paper approach of connecting with people will never go out of style.

After coming back from the PASS Community Summit in Seattle, I received a hand-written card from the project manager thanking me for the wonderful gift. She was also a big fan of Dr. John Maxwell and his books. But what really struck me was how she related the story of the application tester who received the other book. The gift came at a time when she felt really discouraged and was starting to believe that her work in the company didn’t matter. The book and the hand-written note from me made in impact in her life: it validated her value. It didn’t just make her day, it literally ignited her to become excited again with the work that she does. Most importantly, I’ve gained another level of appreciation for the hand-written letters that I send out, knowing that they do have an impact on the lives of the recipients. I’ll still make sure that they’re legible before I send them out.

Question: Have you been encouraged recently by a hand-written note? When was the last time you sent out one? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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