Monday, October 18

Face Time Space-Time

A bigwig -- I won't say who because this was an internal communication to employees of a certain news and data vendor -- writes today to vindicate the Red Actor position on e-mail, or so it seems:
To help us all work more efficiently, I would like to see great reduction in the number of emails exchanged among the employees. Why? Well, it seems that the number of emails we get every day increases exponentially; for every email we send, we get three more. Although email is a wonderful communication tool, it sometimes creates more confusion and gets in the way of doing business more productively. Further, email becomes an end rather than a means and winds up dictating the use of our available time. My personal opinion is that it also cuts down on personal interaction, which is vital to clear and constructive communication. Additionally -- and I am saying this through my own experience -- many emails appear to be antagonistic because of their brevity and occasionally apparently sharp or imperious tone.
The recommendation: More face-to-face communication. All well and good, I say, but I also see we need to distinguish between different kinds of communication. E-mail is not the only option. There's IM and groupware and the telephone. Let's have things that need to be written down -- that means most precise information about who, what, when, and where -- posted to a portal so that when we do have a chance to sit down and talk it can be the kind of conversation that you can't conduct electronically: Relaxed, spontaneous, wide-ranging meetings of the minds. You can't just swap face-to-face for e-mail. You wind up with the same problem: those endless short, snippish interruptions along the lines of "When did you say that thing was happening again?" And the fact is that if I want to talk to my art director, I have to wait for an elevator that runs less frequently than the G subway in Brooklyn to go and see him two floors up. Plus our team is increasingly distributed, including correspondents in Shanghai, Blighty, and Walkabout Creek. And e-mail has its uses. When you learn to set up alerts in MS Outlook, for example, you can prioritize messages so that the really important stuff pops up and the rest goes into a folder for later browsing. And there are messages that you need to leave the virtual equivalent of a paper trail, like our manufacturing guy's reports on the results of production and the layout of the upcoming issue. You need to see sign-off from a lot of people on that stuff to be sure you're doing the right thing on your part of it. Our copy editor jokes he is going to gin up an automated reply so that when I tell him a file is ready for him to read, a reply automatically tells me to close the file, which I always forget to do. The irony is he sits right by me. On the other hand, his job involves concentrating fiercely on arcane punctuation and usage issues, so I hate to drive him crazy. Use electronic communication that consolidates and organizes information in one place accessible to everyone, so long as it passes the global test: Does getting information this way save me time and annoyance? An intranet with messaging and calendaring and all that good stuff does exactly that. Whenever I get a minute, I visit the site and get a rundown on where everybody else is at at that moment, and most of my worry-wart questions get answered. That way we can save our face time for the good stuff: Shooting the bull about things we enjoy talking about and actually being pleasant and relaxed instead of abrupt and harassed with one another. I'm interested in learning more about what turns my reporters on, or not, about what they cover. That's why I'd rather not waste my word-budget for the day repeating "when you gonna turn it in" ad nauseam. Not that I would want to contradict the big boss, you understand ... if, hypothetically, he or she were my big boss, that is ...


Blogger Prentiss Riddle said...

Irrelevant aside of the day: I've been using e-mail since 1983 and my recollection is that Back in My Day, e-mail was strictly a non-count noun. No one spoke of "sending three e-mails", it was strictly "sending three pieces of e-mail" or "three e-mail messages". I suppose this was by direct analogy to regular postal mail. The more recent usage still grates.

No doubt someone exploring the Google Usenet archive will prove me right or wrong.

10/19/2004 08:15:00 am  

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