On December 30, 2020, Grammarly sent its users a newsletter titled “Communication Trends of 2020.” They detailed the results on their blog, but in the original email, similar to users’ usual personal statistic report, Grammarly showed some of the changes in their data that they thought were significant for the year.
They identified that “users paid more attention to the wording and tone they used” by rating 98% higher in the delivery statistic than in previous years, as well as 77% higher in the engagement statistic. This makes sense. Activists were pushing for drastic social change, politicians and casual political discussionists were arguing for the values and benefits of their preferred candidates, there was lots of ardent advocacy for scientifically accurate information about the pandemic. People were more concerned than ever about not only what they were saying but how they were saying it and how people could interact with what they were saying.
There was a 91% drop in the use of formal speech. The move toward a more casual kind of communicating is interesting to me in that I think it mirrors our shift to working remotely; we’re working from our homes, and speaking from our homes. The usual restrictions stopped applying, which makes it understandable that our restricted formal speech started to take a back seat. Grammarly does note, however, that there were spikes in formality in late May and early June, during the most intense moments of the Black Lives Matter movement.
What hit the hardest for me was Grammarly’s analysis of tone for the past year. The trends for the use of an optimistic tone and an informative tone reversed. Similarly, the use of a confident tone dropped 43%. This is, as Grammarly points out, entirely expected “as COVID-19 cases began to rise [in March] in the US and Europe.” We all knew that optimism was rare this year, but to have it pointed out so definitively in a statistic like this seems painfully real. Not only have we felt less certain and excited about our future, but we’ve written more pessimistically to match that feeling of dread.
Still, these statistics are oddly validating. It’s nice to see that we weren’t alone in our feelings and that others are just as concerned as we are. It’s nice to see that other people are concerned about how they talk to each other in the same way we are; for me, it creates a kind of common ground. We’re struggling independently, but we’re struggling simultaneously, and I think if we can see that others are feeling the same pains we are, those pains become less intense and are spread out more bearably. A single person can’t carry the entire ocean on their back, but if everyone takes some of the water, then the weight stops feeling so crushing.
Keep talking. Keep communicating. Keep sharing the weight of the world, and don’t let it settle on your shoulders alone.