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Blog 8 You Said What to Me?

February 11th, 2016

Somewhere in the last 20 years, e mail grew in popularity because it was a way of getting in touch, without having the responsibility of talking or being present.

An e mail could be sent with no contact ever taking place and if it wasn’t read within seconds, the sender could become angry or hurt or frustrated – usually following that up with another e mail asking the question, ”Didn’t you get my e mail?”

Apparently not. Or perhaps I did… and didn’t like the implied tone.

There’s a thing about e mail etiquette – as a rule, it doesn’t exist. So many assumptions, so little time. I’ve been told there was a time when letter writing was an art, for business as well as personal. There was a greeting, there was a message that made sense and there was a sign off. But all that takes time…

Now, more often than not, there’s an immediate beginning, because why should anyone bother to say hello since you can see who it came from just above in the ‘from” block… duh. And there’s not always a sign off because, again, that would just be unnecessary niceness. So obvious.

It became very casual very fast and I happen to like that, if you’re good with words and if you’re in a good mood when writing and if you know who’s on the receiving end really, really well. But if you’re in a bad mood or even just a little off or not focused or it’s Tuesday, or if your sense of humor requires a personal delivery or your edge leaves scars when not accompanied by a smile, the excessive use of capitals and exclamation points can get totally out of hand and a flip remark can quickly become an inexcusable insult or a very uncomfortable silence. Of course it’s silent… because you’re not there! Dangerous.

I remember receiving a memorably unpleasant e mail one day. Someone I knew well for a very long time had had a very bad day, it seems, and was seriously pissed off at my overt, slap-happy optimism represented in blog form – sorry – so they sat down and wrote me an e mail to tell me clearly how much I bother them. Not the blog, mind you – me, personally. Fine and dandy. The mistake wasn’t in the writing of the e mail. The mistake was in the sending… immediately… without letting it sit over night while a mellower mood rolled back in, so it could be reread clearly the next morning after coffee and a Xanax to see if it was exactly what she meant to say and how to say it, or if maybe certain words could be replaced with less psychologically scarring ones. It was a little over the top, shall we say, and if she wasn’t mad at me, she was clearly mad at something.

Anyway, clearer minds didn’t prevail, so I got the message, read it and was hurt by it, so I guess it did its job. Then I deleted it… and the friendship with it. I responded a few days later. Not immediately. I apologized for hurt feelings… and said goodbye.

Speed isn’t always a good thing.

So it makes one wonder how one day, personal e mails pretty much ceased to exist because texting was so much shorter and faster and everyone always has their phone on them so there’s no excuse not to respond immediately if not sooner… ever. Because why wouldn’t you respond? What’s your excuse? What could you possibly be doing that’s more important? And they’re so much shorter. Did I already say that?
I mean short. really short. A couple of capital letters, a handful of emoticons, throw in an xo and you’re good to go!

So here’s what I think is curious. What’s next? If e mails were faster and shorter and less personal than written letters and if texts are faster and shorter than e mails, will we just hit a command that sends a sound to someone just to say we’re thinking about them? Oh right, we already can. Maybe we’ll just post images with no words and hope our friends fall upon them… oh, right again… or maybe we’ll just sit and think really, really hard about someone and assume they’re getting what we’re putting out there… but what if our minds wander and we suddenly start thinking about someone else? Would that create a mystical party line? I wonder.

Maybe eventually, when everything gets stripped down to its barest essence and words are no longer
in use and the silence becomes deafening and the distance becomes something more than isolating, maybe then it’ll be time to pick up the phone and say, “Hi (name goes here)! How are ya? Wanted to hear your voice.” And the intention will be clear… because it will be heard in the tone.

“The quietness of his tone italicized the malice of his reply.”
Truman Capote

~ William Sloan
  Executive Vice President
  Creative Director

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