Try Picking Up The Phone
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Last night I met with an old friend in Central London, who used to be a journalist and who now works for a large, international company which makes good use of his excellent communication skills. It was one of those seemingly rare London evenings, with crowds from the wonderful old Victorian public houses, spilling onto the streets. Despite England’s ignominious exit from the World Cup, and despite the dismal World Cup, the pub goers all seemed to be a in a pretty upbeat mood.
And so it was as we sat inside the ‘Duke of Buckingham’ and before we moved off to the ‘Flask and Bottle’, we got on to the vexatious subject of email, text and ‘crack berries’. Now there was a time, not so long ago, when people never turned their cell phone offs. They would take calls and texts in the middle of conversations. With some people it became apparent that the advent of new technology meant that they lost all sense of manners, and sometimes forgot to communicate altogether, except of course with their ‘crack berries’. I recall seeing people for the first time, apparently talking to themselves, and worst than that, the inane disturbance on train carriages, as some individuals conducted loud conversations with their cell phones, discussing such inanities as what they had for lunch, when the train would be getting in, the arguments with the boyfriend, and other mind numbingly dull intrusions.
My friend, who is a very busy senior manager, disclosed that he received up to “200 emails a day”. Which I suppose is not all that unusual, and presumably does not include the spam or the letters from people claiming to be relatives of the late President of the Congo, with money they want to transfer into your account. This set me thinking, as I guess when I was a Foreign TV Correspondent, I probably received almost as many emails and texts in a day. If I’m honest, most of them had nothing to do with me at all, others were invaluable news wires, and still others were orders, requests for information and the personal stuff about ‘meeting up sometime’, which usually, it being email, meant never.
But thinking back, I used to be in thrall to the ‘crack berry’. If it dididnt’ ring or vibrate, I would start to worry. Am I being bypassed? Have I been forgotten? Have I offended someone – which as we all know if incredibly easy to do? The email and text had become the substitute for picking up a phone or writing a letter.
Well, it may not come as much news to many of you, but a phone call seems much more likely to bring results than an email. A letter will be read because it is such a rarity. And email and text, while it makes us feel busy, valued and important, is turning into such a deluge, that it actually gets in the way of actually getting anything done.
My friend and I are just old enough to have started work in offices without the Internet, cell phones, or anything more advanced than – in my case an Amstrad word processor. He didn’t even have this luxury. In the late 1980s office work was conducted by phone, fax and bike delivery. The point is, we still managed to produce a newspaper each week, and he managed to produce a TV programme.
So there surely must be some mileage for a new breed of consultants who are paid to advise big companies and organisations on how to reduce the email and text flow in order to increase productivity? But before they emerge, we could all just try to stay our hands, and spare others the pain. Pick up the phone instead!
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