So, Um

I’ve never been to a Toastmasters meeting, though I’ve had the opportunity. I have talked to people that have, though, which is only a slight step up from playing an attendee on TV, but enough of one for my purposes here today.

What I remember from such talks is that one of the things that the Toastmasters spend a lot of effort at is getting people to embrace the silent pause, to not fill their moments of gathering thoughts with “ums” and “uhs,” let alone the dreaded “like.” It’s easy enough to understand why we use them, we use them because we don’t want to lose our moment of attention. We’re in the middle of saying something, but we need a moment to put together the rest of the sentence, the rest of the thought; if we don’t make some sound, utter some placeholder, there’s a very real chance that someone else in the group will take their shot, will jump in and divert attention to them, will steal our audience. Even God understands how valuable it is to have someone listen. Actually, God more than anyone probably understands that; how many millions of people have found comfort in just having God listen, not respond, not interrupt, just listen. What power there may be in prayer may just be in believing that someone is listening.

But before someone else jumps in, let me get back to the point I was about to make. I was engaged in a brief instant messaging conversation the other day and God was sitting there with me; he nudged me and pointed at the screen. He told me that what I was looking at was an “um” in the cyber age. It was that little notice that pops up and says the other person is typing. I don’t know if the programmers that put that in knew that that’s what they were doing, but there it was, a little signal that it wasn’t yet my turn to speak. It’s an elegant example of how some things that we barely notice in the real world are still so essential that as we transition part of our lives to the online realm, we still need to bring them along, not in the form we’ve grown up with maybe, but nonetheless there, disguised in plain sight.

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