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What is email for?

Submitted by on Friday, 25 December 2009

first-name

NOTE: Due to the holidays, we are reposting favorite posts. Original posts will resume January 5th.

I don’t know about you, but when I get long emails my eyes go running around my head. Too many words for me to take in during a busy day when I’m sure I’m suffering from some form of ADHD as I try to multitask beyond human capability. So I ask folks to please, please, puLEASE not send me long emails.

But they do anyway. And then they get mad when I don’t read them – especially when they’ve written something personal. They actually expect me to put down what I’m doing and read a one-way missive, interpret what they are meaning and feeling against how I interpret their words, then gather my own thoughts and feelings along the way that I can’t manage cuz the communication is one-way and obviously my thoughts and feelings have no credence – and then, then… then what? I can’t remember what I was thinking and feeling with each paragraph or thought, so I have to go back. And god forbid if I miss something!!

I don’t want to read anything personal on an email! I don’t want to have a one-way conversation — that’s not communication! Why can’t we skype so we can see each other? Or at the very least talk on the phone so I can hear and feel the person? So I can respond to each thought – and then get a chance to share my thought real-time.

On email it seems like a bunch of data thrown at me that I am helpless to directly respond to.  That’s exactly what email is: a place to send quick sound bites of data to fill someone in on some important info: the name of a hotel or meeting spot; friends sharing a joke or daily annoyance. When my lifelong friend Jack doesn’t hear from me for a few days (we’ve been friends for 53 years) he emails me and says, “You ok? I miss you.” Those few words remind me that I have a friend who loves me if I ever get time to pick up the phone. Just a touch. No saga. No missive.

When folks pour their hearts out to me on email, I don’t know what to do. Why don’t they want to tell me in person-ish (so I can hear and feel their feelings and nuances and expressions)? What is it about a one-sided conversation that drive people to write personal stuff about their feelings on a screen that has no human attached, and has shown to be highly capable of being misinterpreted and messing up relationships?

Just like with my name. My first name is two words – Sharon Drew. I tell people I use them both. I tell people I’m sensitive to it. But by the third email when they still address me as Sharon, and the third time I say, “Btw – my first name is both words – sharon drew – and I use them both, and I’m kinda sensitive to it. If you could please remember to call me Sharon Drew I’d really appreciate it.” I must admit I’m about ready to end the relationship. I feel unheard, unloved, and disrespected. Of course it has nothing to do with me, but on email, it feels personal because I have no way to respond that’s working.

I was once at a conference, sitting next to a very well-known powerhouse of a woman. We all had on name tags about the size of a house. Our first names were splayed out in 3 inch letters, and our last names were a few inches below, in tiny letters. My tag said SHARON-DREW…. morgen. And we used the hypen between my names so people wouldn’t get confused :) Anyway, this woman – who was by no means stupid – kept calling me Sharon. I kept holding my name tag in front of my face saying, “Um, my first name is Sharon-Drew” and she kept ignoring me. I felt like I was speaking Serbo-Croatian. Finally I said to her, “What is my first name?”

‘Sharon.’

“Ok. And what is my last name?”

“Drew-Morgen.”  For this, she had to pull my huge first name down to my tiny last name, and ignore the hyphen and my requests.

‘Ok. So why does my name tag have my first name as two hyphenated words?”

“They obviously made a mistake.”

“Ok. And since we’ve been here 5 days, why haven’t I fixed it yet?”

“You haven’t had time.”

This woman, this smart smart woman who runs a well-known company, made up this entire fantasy story, took no conventional data ‘in,’ and then made up a story to prove she was right and I was wrong…. with my own name!

Reminded me of the time when a magazine editor put the name Charlotte Morgan under my picture in an article. I called him to tell him he had the name wrong and asked him to issue a correction. He said, and this is absolutely true:

“No I didn’t get your name wrong. You must have sent it to me wrong.”

Obviously, we make up stories in our heads and assume they are true, and the ‘right’ data is irrelevant if it doesn’t fit our map of the world!

So given that people are so stuck in their own words and worlds that data from the outside that goes against their conventional beliefs is irrelevant, how are we supposed to communicate?? Touch and feel each other? And email is just an extension of this.

I vote to use email only to share data, quick check-in notes between friends, and send addresses and phone numbers. I vote that feelings, personal sharing, thinking, and real communication takes place when people can hear/feel each other.

sd

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