Years ago I was at a friend’s home, when the phone rang. He was in the middle of something, and after the third ring I asked if he was going to get it.
“I decide when I’ll talk on the phone”, Phil said. “The telephone doesn’t control me”.
Fast-forward 40 years later and we have e-mail, texting, Messenger, and hundred of apps with the ability to communicate. But is it effective? Should we step away from the convenience based on mis-perception? Personally, I say “yes”. I’m tired of it controlling me.
Each tool we have comes with it’s joys and warts. But one common detractor is the impression people have about use, immediacy, and importance. I would suggest to you that most of what is transmitted is simply unimportant.
The problem comes when someone who has free time expects someone working to play. Or the other way around, where they are working and they expect a coworker to respond to a business question or concern.
A recent article in The Atlantic, titled “How to Email“, made valid points which were debated heavily in a Facebook group. It’s fair to say that if you were to ask 100 people what the proper protocol is for 7 different platforms, you would get 700 different criteria, all base on their personal perceptions.
I use the word “personal” as there is no agreed to standard for how to communicate electronically.
Some offices have very detailed employee use of apps/media in the workplace. But for the sake of this article I’m speaking from the personal standpoint. However, crossing the line with communications can be tricky.
Two of my friends are at exact opposite ends of the electronic message spectrum. Bill is one of those who has all the apps, and his phone is constantly going off. He’s tied to it 24/7/365. Phil doesn’t have any apps, and he says if you want him, call him. If he doesn’t answer, leave a message and he will get back to you on his terms. He doesn’t text, and believes his friends are not on Facebook, but having drinks and dinner with him. So who is better off, Bill or Phil?
There have been times when I’ve wanted to wring Bill’s neck. Take for example the time I woke to 13 text messages from him spaced out over 4 hours, from 9:00PM to 1:26AM. It started with a question, which then became a clarification, then another question, getting more dire with each transmission. By the 13th message he said, “You must not be home. Text me when you have a chance.“
I didn’t text the next day, but I did call and chew on him reminding him that I go to bed at 8:30PM because I get up at 4:30AM the next morning! I also explained that the phone is in the charger, in the home office, and is OFF. What is so important that I need to be awaken? The excuse he gave was, he was up, and he though he would see if I’m up.
Bill also peeved me off by using Facebook Messenger during the day to ask a personal question, when a call to my office would have gave him an answer in less than 10 seconds. Instead, he got all worked up because I was not replying. I asked him, “did you really expect me to stop in the middle of a budget meeting to reply to you”? Ironically, he though it would be appropriate.
Overall, I think Phil has the better life, Bill is a slave to his phone, and when he can’t use it he’s like an addict on withdrawal. You can’t carry on a conversation with Bill because he’s engaged on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and several other platforms, and HAS to know what’s going down all the time.
This begs the question, what is the correct use of electronic media?
Texting – Text messages should be a heads up. Follow the rule; “if it requires more than two text message, you should CALL”.
Texts should be things like, “pick up milk on the way home”, “Doctor called. Appointment changed to next Thursday”, or “Call me when you are free”.
Above all, there is no expectation that once you send a text it will be acted on. If you need immediacy, call the person.
App Private Messages – These are even less important than Texting. I can’t tell you how many times people think a message on Facebook, Twitter, or any other platform has immediacy, or priority.
An even bigger problem is the perception that a message sent in Messenger is one which will be acted on upon receipt. Such as been the case with a few friends who send messages, only to get mad when a reply does not come back quickly.
I’ve shut off Messenger on all my devices except my home computer because I got tired of it going off, being interrupted by some minutia like, “Don’t you think Taylor Swift looked awful last night on TV?” Or something which would be best handled by talking to each other.
I hesitate to “Block” people on social media, but there are times when someone is rude, offensive to others, uncaring, or just so inconsiderate that they deserve to be blocked.
E-mail – It’s bad enough that we still get spam in e-mail, as well as the occasional Nigerian Prince asking for help. But we don’t need to have our e-mail abused.
For me, I don’t mind occasionally chatting in e-mail, as long as there is not the expectation of immediacy. E-mail is like a letter, and the best letters are to the point, contain the facts, and any relevant attachments. Otherwise, call me on the phone.
What I don’t like are chain letters, political diatribe, or byte-intensive attachments, such as an MP4 video which eats up 35 mb of e-mail showing a Russian Dash Cam montage. Such actions are like stepping in dog crap, then walking in my home whilst depositing it on the carpet. THINK before you send!
Another thing you shouldn’t do in e-mail is send lewd material, nudes, and rants. Modern businesses employ e-mail scanners, and your e-mail and words are property of a business if it touches their server. Scanners can flag messages, which admins are allowed to review and inform management of contents and exchanges. Such was a case when a friend of an employee sent a message joking about buying a taser to shoot coworkers the thought annoying.
I knew someone who routinely received, and forward inappropriate cartoons from his friends at work. He lost his job after his company was involved in a legal issue, and attorneys subpoenaed e-mails from the company. A newspaper reporter published in the local paper; “_____ had daily transmitted racist, sexist, and inappropriate cartoons over e-mail which can not be shown here“, because the plaintiff’s attorney mentioned this as part of the case. Needless to say, the employee was fired.
Voicemail – If you leave a voicemail, be professional and think about the person you’re calling. State your name, phone number, and reason for calling, and conclude the message with the number a final time in case they are writing it down.
Don’t assume caller ID works. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve received a call from someone who doesn’t leave a number, and when I check my phone to see the number it says “Private Number” or “Unlisted”.
Driving – Electronic communications has made it so easy we can get information while driving, or can we? Technically we can. Practically we can’t.
Nobody should be texting, or on social media while driving. There should not be the expectation by a sender that the recipient will pull over and read the message.
Cellphone calls should be hands free. And while we’re on cellphone use in a car, don’t tell someone to write something down, or do something which takes a driver’s focus off the road. Ask them to call you back.
I mention all this as starting this year I’ll be making a lot of people unhappy. My use of electronic media will change drastically because my phone and apps do not control me.
I’ll let you choose if your phone or apps control you.