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Did you get my email?

Author: Paul Wyatt

Originally featured in issue 184 of .net magazine

I’ve begun to detest technology. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Gadgets and gizmos? I love ’em. That’s what happens when you grow up on a diet of lightsabers, teleport bracelets and Eighties faux future tech.
It’s when technology becomes bossy that I start to detest it. We’re constantly being cued in by little electronic beeps. Time to wake up. Time to attend a meeting. Answer the phone. Respond to that text. Even my washing machine beeps. It screams at me when it finishes a wash cycle. Demanding immediate attention from me, it refuses to stop until the drum is emptied. The launderette may be a safer bet.

Bossy tech has been festering for a while. My first taste of it was with a harmless-looking Tamagotchi over a decade ago. This gimmicky what-shall-we-buy-Paul-in-a-hurry gift ran me ragged. Feed me. Clean me. Play with me. Define me. I swear I did everything it asked of me and still it died after a week. Gadgets and tech demand our response. Our immediate response. And demanding tech takes on its most sinister form of respondez s’il vous plait – right now, damn it! – in the shape of the office email. There are poor saps among us who spend all day hunched over inboxes. The little envelope icon appears in the corner of their screen and they’re on to it. Like nurturing the unquenchable Tamagotchi, they react to the demands of the inbox. Playing email tennis, spinning a bit of politics and covering one’s own derriere. All par for the course for a day in Outlook.

Oh and forwarding. Did I mention the art of forwarding? How many times have you received a project outline, feedback or work request with a cursory ‘FYI’ at the top of it? How much time do you then waste trailing through it trying to find the nuts and bolts of the request, how it affects you and what you have to do to resolve it? You may, quite rightly, misinterpret a lot of the information. It’s possible you’ll be halfway through a project before the email sender walks past and gets their giblets in an twist. “What are you doing? That’s not right! Did you get my email?” Well of course you got their email. But what you didn’t get was the extra-sensory perception plugin required to understand it.

Just pressing a send button doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job. It’s a bit like throwing a heap of Post-it notes at a wall and hoping some of them stick. This is bossy tech as its worst. People use email to send garbled, badly considered information that, by the conventions of instant communication, requires immediate attention. Or does it? Designers and developers aren’t email whores. They don’t spend their lives waiting for mails. They’re usually up to their necks wading through code or looking for design inspiration. It’s not realistic to believe that as soon as an email is sent, the knowledge it contains is automatically digested and fully understood by the addressee. Using tech like this is silly. It’s not always the original sender’s fault; it’s often the kneejerk response of the person who first receives it. “Oh I have an email. I must forward it on/respond immediately/bounce it on to someone else as soon as possible…”

It won’t self-destruct within five minutes. There’s nothing wrong with taking just a little bit longer to reply to it. Remember that the beep of the email arriving isn’t a starting pistol. Think about it. Plan it out. Those who do this well are a pleasure to work with. They consolidate client feedback and put together watertight project plans that leave little room for misinterpretation. With such wonderful order everyone can just get on with what they do best – designing or developing. That little bit of extra careful preparation can save money, false starts, time and, most importantly, patience.
If only I could control my domestic bossy tech in a similar fashion. My washing machine is still screaming. The manufacturer replied, claiming they’d already got back to me with an answer on how to shut it up. Strange, really. I’m quite sure that I didn’t get their email.

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