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Section:  Avodah   Category: Innocent Observations
The Chofetz Chaim Of Email
I saw a very thought provoking exchange between two people, discussing today's communication technology.  Until now electronic communication primarily revolved around email.  When writing an email most people write it and then reread it, making technical corrections as well as contextual.  Often after reading an email we will edit out parts deeming them inappropriate.  It may have seemed fine when writing it, but when you judge it as a reader you realized it is better not said or at least said in a different way.

Then there is instant messaging.  Unlike email when the reader and writer are not communicating in real time, and the reader reads it whenever he has a chance, the exchanges here are live and in real time with both people reading and responding as soon as the message is received.  Even here, however, each person writes their thoughts, edits them and then hits the send button.  As one writes, the person on the other end just sees a message telling him that his friend is in middle of typing but he does not know what is being written.

Recently a new technology allows the recipient to see each letter as the writer types it.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  You don't need to wait and wonder.  You watch it happen, as it happens.  People all over the world are marveling at this communication breakthrough.  One fellow however was not so impressed.  "I am a terrible speller!  Do you think I want the other person to see all my mistake before my spellchecker saves me shame?  Besides I write so many dumb sarcastic jokes that I usually end up erasing them and saving myself lots of grief.  Now every word I think of typing will be out there and can't be taken back!"

These are pretty valid gripes.  However after hearing this argument, another fellow wanted to know why he was suddenly so concerned about letting inappropriate remarks slip out of his computer, while he doesn't seem to disturbed about comment that roll off the tip of his tongue.   You can't take those back either.  Do you have an internal voice editing system, the commenter wanted to know?

Many thinkers, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, decry the breakdown of good old communication.  People no longer speak to each other, they email and text message in terribly impersonal ways.  They are curt and don't develop their speech.  Here is another way of looking at it.  It is great!!!  From a Daas Torah perspective we talk way more than we should.  And when we start, every last comment and then some, come tumbling out of our mouths uncensored. 

Sure the internet has its dangers, and as per our gedolim it should be avoided to the greatest extent possible.  But the telephone was probably the greatest communication disaster in technology history.  It changed the way we speak forever.  Not seeing the person we are talking with made it that much easier to get wrapped up in our own thoughts without considering what we are saying or that someone is actually listening.  Email however takes us a century back in time when communication meant thinking about what we say, reviewing it to make sure its appropriate and not hurtful, and lastly only saying what we need to say without rambling on from topic to topic, unimpeded. 

So why is it that we are careful with the written word but not the spoken word?  Probably because we have this notion that words disappear into thin air.  Once we say it, we tend to move on and we don't realize that just like the written word that can be read and reread, the spoken word can scar a person's heart and be replayed over and over again in their mind after we have long forgotten our hurtful utterances.  An off the cuff response about another person can have repercussions for many generations and alter a person's life and future.

 We may never be the Chofetz Chaim but now that we've learned to respect the written word and it forms an essential part of our daily communications, we need to transfer some of this accountability to our spoken word.  As frum Yidden we truly believe that each word is recorded and will be replayed to us in front of the Heavenly court.  We know that Ozen Shomaas, the great ear in Shamayim is listening.   But more than listening, even our spoken words are being written down on a very large computer faraway above the land.  Not only do we need to be careful before we hit the send button we need to be just as careful before opening our mouth. Because when non-Jews start giving Mussar about Shmiras HaLashon, we ought to listen carefully.
RELATED ARTICLES:email  observation  Shmiras HaLashon  telephone

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Visitor Comments: 1

YM, 2009-10-21 14:20:45
Clever lesson about watching what you write versus watching what you speak. Before the advent of e-mail I had always admired TDD communicators for the hearing-impaired as ones who have a cleaner tongue than most since everything is typed. However, in terms of text versus speech, the gedolim have decried the former as being destructive, whereas no such halachic ruling was issued for phone usage.

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