Back in the day (which day depends upon how far back in time you are willing to travel) the written word was handwritten or perhaps produced on an Underwood typewriter, a Wang computer, or via the program Word Perfect (I realize that some of my younger readers will have to Google these terms while some of my older readers will appreciate the nostalgia).
Often, these messages were sent via the United States Postal Service (something we now refer to as snail mail). There was also the Western Union Telegraph Company (I guess we could think of this as a precursor to email and text). Later there was the facsimile machine (fax) which at one point was the fastest way to get an image of a document from point A to point B. And of course, let’s not forget Federal Express (eventually shortened to FedEx) for “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”.
Today we have email (which feels almost old-school), text and Twitter to name a few to get messages to one or many nearly instantaneously and almost anywhere. So long as one has a device (desktop or laptop computer, tablet, or smart phone) at hand they can get a message almost anytime, anywhere. They can also respond.
While there is certainly some good in all of this I think something has been “lost in translation”. Many seem to have forgotten that what we are dealing with regardless of the vehicle on which it is composed or transmitted is still the written word.
I will often spend 30 minutes or more composing a piece of communication which is most often sent via email. If I do say so myself, these are well crafted communications which are edited, proof read (at times by both me and a colleague), and then edited some more before hitting the send button. Often they are printed onto paper as the contrast is sharper than on a screen and is more likely to allow the reader to catch errors.
Sure there are times that I dash off a quick note in mere seconds (often while multi-tasking) but if there is truly an important and complex message to deliver, then the written word demands the same time and attention today as it did years ago despite the fact that the delivery method may have changed.
Too often, too many of us are sending complex pieces of communication from whatever device is at hand in as little time as possible. At times, these quick communications have so little thought associated with them that they leave the reader in a quandary wondering what was intended by the message. Often, this kicks off a stream of similarly ill composed back and forth communication which at best is a waste of time and at worst results in the transmission of the wrong message. Further, thanks to “auto-correct” (or perhaps we should call it “auto-incorrect”) and voice to text transcription some of these messages are incomprehensible.
More than once I’ve gotten responses that leave me wondering if the recipient actually read the original message. And sometimes, I’m not even wondering. I have absolute certainty that the recipient tried to read a complex piece of communication on a device so small there is absolutely no way they could have grasped the content especially if a spreadsheet was attached.
Sure, some things are simple and can be distilled to 140 characters or less but that takes time and thought. I once heard Seinfeld say that he would spend an entire day refining a single line and that he considered that a good day of work.
So, if you really want to save yourself some time, spend a few moments to get the communication right the first time.
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