Friday, 18 August 2017

Email: the King of Communication?

A few years ago, I had an aunt who was suffering from terminal cancer. I used to write to her every three weeks. While she was unable to reply, my cousin told me that she very much enjoyed having my letters read to her. What this led to, after my aunt's death, was the establishment of a family blog which I still write monthly. I use email to send out a link to all my family members. I built the writing habit in letter form, then found a new channel to deliver it to my various audiences.

My writing has expanded to a business blog, a private blog and academic writing. However, my most common form of enjoyable communication is actually email. Email allows me to communicate with anybody, anywhere, instantaneously. It can also be seductive. The smart phone revolution has allowed me to hear that little "ping" that says I have had a reply, and be drawn to checking my email out of hours. So pervasive is a temptation to do work out of office hours, that countries like Brazil have legislated that, if our organisations require us to have a smart phones always on, then they must pay us for any work done out of hours.

Email as a form of writing is not something that I normally think deeply about. However, an assignment on edX's MOOC, "Academic and Business Writing", asked us to "How do you think email has affected communication? Do you hate it? Love it? Explain your response." I was quite surprised with the ideas this sparked.

Because you see, I love email. I largely communicate using email. I like that I can write as much or as little as is necessary, I can add photos, I can draw diagrams, I can attach files, link videos or podcasts. I can schedule follow-up as a task, and I can drop the contents of an email into an appointment. Each email gives me a full record of exactly what has been said, by whom, and when.

Over time, I have come to dislike the phone. We have very bad cellphone reception where we live, meaning that calls often go straight to my message service, and messages are delayed. Further, there is no record of what was said on the phone, and when you're very busy it is easy to lose track of the things you need to get done. Even worse, you get double glazing sales people calling you at dinnertime.

The same is largely true of texts. Due the paucity of our reception, receiving and answering text messages is also slow, untimely, and limited. Often messages are being sent by people I don't really want to hear from, such as my telecommunications company, telling me about an email they have just sent!

But emails I will answer as they come in. I think it is the fact that I have a complete trail of all my work conversations in one place that makes it attractive; and also that any unread mail forms a task list still to be tackled. But I still need to be aware of Brazil's stance. Email should simply help us do our work. It should not overburden us, nor should we allow it to.

For me, email is still the king of communication :-)


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