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We remember the exciting day when we bought our first IBM PC and a printer for $7,500 back in 1981. (Yes. You read that number right.)  Our exciting new computer had no hard drive and its operating systems existed on a floppy disc.

Years later, after a few computer upgrades, we heard about this thing called a gigabyte. That seemed like an unimaginable amount of space – probably enough to store all the information in our world.  It wasn’t so much later that we had scores and then hundreds of gigabytes on our desks.

These days we’re all hot and bothered about the ways we can use AI.

So, before we say anything more about the various problems that come along with advances in communications technologies, let it be clear that we’re thoroughly captivated by technology and hope we always will be.

But when it comes to communicating with one another we are frustrated by the losses we’ve suffered each time something new comes along.

Back in the days when fax machines were the brave new world, lots of time was saved by sending letters instantaneously all around the world.   But soon afterwards, every organization had a fax machine, with the numbers on their business cards (those were the days when people still used business cards) and all kinds of hitches began to appear.

For example, mass mailings (A free trip to the Bahamas!) started to clog up fax machines. Faxes often didn’t come through. They got ignored as they piled up in a central spot awaiting someone to bring them to their rightful recipient.

But that was only the beginning of a downward spiral.

E-mails are another example. Soon after we adjusted to communications arriving this way, we began to miss the old-fashioned mail system. Even more, we began to miss the old-fashioned telephone, which allowed you decipher, through the tone of someone’s voice, whether they were sincere or sarcastic. 

Of course, e-mails have made the world a speedier place. People can exchange information and documents quickly – a major plus for us as researchers.  But the negatives have mounted up.

For one thing, e-mails have led to an unhealthily 24/7 world. E-mails pop up in the middle of the night and they know no such thing as weekends. For a while, we worked with someone who would send out e-mails on Sunday afternoons beginning by saying “Hope you’ve had a nice weekend,” under the assumption that recipients must be ready to get back to work on Sunday.

Then there’s the lack of thought that many people put into what they send by e-mail. People in a rush can sound terse and even rude in an e-mail, even when that wasn’t their desire. Most people have learned that the use of all capital letters comes across like yelling, but that’s a lesson that bears repeating. It’s surprising how little care is taken in getting names spelled properly. Or even using the right names in the first place. Our little company is called “Barrett and Greene, Inc.” You might be surprised to know how many notes we get (and these aren’t mass mailings either) addressed to “Dear Barrett.”

Of real frustration is the desire to move so quickly through seemingly endless stacks of e-mail that people never read the entirety of notes they receive, necessitating a long exchange that would have been avoided with five minutes on the phone.  Following is the kind of thing we (and we suspect you) go through regularly:  

Us: “Thank you for your willingness to work with us. Can we talk on March 31, and if so, what time would be good with you?

Them: “Yes, the 31st will work.”

Us: “Terrific. Just let us know what time will work for you and the best way to reach you.”

Them: “How’s 3:30?”

Us: “That will work fine. But did you mean Central Time or Eastern Time? And how should we reach you?”

Them: “Sorry, I should have been clearer. I meant Central Time.”

Us: That’ll work well. But could you please send us the best way to reach you?’

Then we wait for two days and write again asking for the best way to reach the other party, only to get an automatic reply saying they’re out of the office for the rest of the week.

Worse yet, from the point of view of style and tone, is the growing number of people who are relying on texts, which often include acronyms that require us searching on the internet for their meaning. We got used to LOL a long time ago. And we picked up on IMHO, too. But the acronyms keep coming. Not long ago we got a three-letter text that just said “NVM.” Turned out it meant “nevermind,” which pertained to a prior text.

And if style and tone can be lost in emails they entirely disappear in texts.

As far back ago as 1546, writer John Heywood wrote “Hasteth maketh wasteth.” Some things never change.


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