Years ago in America, neighbors often shared telephone lines, which were called “party lines.” The plot of the 1957 film Pillow Talk, starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day, was based on the two stars sharing a party line in New York City.
My, how times have changed!
Party lines gave way to area codes, and citizens around the world started calling each other without an operator. With the proliferation of cellphones, we could call one another wherever we were. Now the Internet reigns supreme -- and what a supremacy. Skype Ltd. , the Internet-based phone service, offers free phone calls, and in two years becomes a $5 billion asset. Even with the decline of the dollar, that’s still a lot of money to me.
The impact of the Internet has changed many of the ways we communicate, including, most importantly, our personal communications. Yes, we get instant access to information and entertainment, but the Internet’s greatest impact on each and every one of lies in the way we communicate today.
The wireless BlackBerry device has become so “addictive,” many people refer to it as a "CrackBerry." Many of us -- no, most of us -- can't ignore our email, whether or not we’re expecting something important to show up in our Inbox. We come home from the office, the gym, walking the dog, and just need to “check” email. Personal communication no longer is constrained by common courtesy. I may not want to call you after a certain hour, but I can always send you an email, and, if you’re up and checking, you can respond in moments.
As for business communication, the bounds of traditional courtesy are now ignored, and, in fact, the reverse is now true. We now routinely, deliberately send emails at odd hours, demonstrating our commitment to the job, and impressing our bosses and co-workers with our dedication.
Of course, all progress has a cost. One can’t erect a modern, midtown marvel without tearing down the previous edifice. For the Internet, the cost of instant, person-to-person communication can be expensive -- it is clarity.
In an office, an individual can walk down the hall and speak with a co-worker, for example. Watching the body language, listening to the other party, one can carefully shape the tone of the message, and even its substance. “Whoops!” I think to myself. “He’s taking this too hard, I need to soften the message." I can do that by smiling and relaxing more.
In a phone call, we hear the other party’s voice, which is often enough to modify our tone and substance.
With email, however, clarity can be lost too easily.
Emotion is hard to communicate. Saying “I love you” in person allows you to look in someone’s eyes and communicate sincerity. Saying “I love you” over the phone is a little more challenging. “Were you being facetious? That sounded sarcastic to me!”
But, email emotion is the most demanding.
“I love you”, in an email, is flat, and comes across just like each of the other times you’ve told this person. Varying nuance requires care and attention to language, which is frequently antithetical with the use of email in the first place. On the Internet, acronyms abound, as though we’re helping the environment by saving electrons. “Btw, how r u?”
In business, or in personal life, communication via email should be the last option, if clarity is important. If time is a factor, email can be great. And, if there is need to send the same message to more than one recipient, email can be an excellent choice. But -- email comes at a cost, and one needs to balance that cost with the benefits. Frankly, from what I’ve seen, there are some very unbalanced emailers out there.
— David Meister, Cable entrepreneur and co-founder of The Sundance Channel