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Tech Talk: Put digital conversations into perspective and take your life back

As a special surprise for the New Year, I learned that one of my e-mail accounts had an issue that kept me from seeing 5,582 new messages over the course of the past year. I told my husband about it, and he was amazed that I didn’t spend the next day poring through the e-mails to see if I had missed anything important.

I was, too.

Then I realized it: E-mail isn’t that important anymore.

Then I wondered what the killer communication app is right now. And, after much consideration, I have to say that there isn’t one anymore. Why? Because everyone who needs to contact you has so many options for contacting you that they will find you whether or not you read your e-mail or text message, or listen to the voicemail on your mobile phone, or read their post on your Facebook/LinkedIn wall, or  their direct message to you on Twitter. They can “poke” one of your colleagues at work to deliver a message to you in person, or find your address on their GPS and come to your house if they really need you.

We’re behaving badly.

End of our rope

Back in the olden days of the 1990s, if you needed someone to answer a question, you’d send a letter or leave a message with their secretary and you’d wait for a response. And it was acceptable for that person to reply to you in a day or two. In fact, if you were too aggressive it was considered rude.

Since the beginning of the year, I have had two instances when I received an e-mail, text message, phone message on my personal mobile phone and a message on Facebook within an hour of each other about issues that were not really that pressing. It feels like the fictional “WUPH” from “The Office” has come to life.

The politeness barrier — the willingness to wait any amount of time for an answer of any level of importance — has been amputated from our mindset by our instant communication technology. This is a mistake.

We’re at the end of our rope.

Without exception, my colleagues have stated that their goal for the New Year is to unplug. Our friends, colleagues and families have become so impatient and rude that we now find ourselves actively hiding from each others’ electronic advances. Instead of technology making us more connected, it’s driving us apart.

One of my friends recently quoted the book “The 4-Hour Work Week” to me as a rationale to read e-mail only one time each week. A well-known restaurateur in Federal Hill has thrown out his mobile phone altogether. I took a two- week cyber-vacation over Christmas. It’s happening everywhere.

Finding some balance

Is there a technology solution?

So far the answer to our constant badgering by devices and electronic messages has been, “Well, try this device that does the work faster and in a more interesting way.” But I am starting to think that technology isn’t going to be able to save us from our rudeness any longer. We’ve got to get some manners, and fast.

The demise of e-mail is a symptom of a larger problem. E-mail is taking the fall because it’s the oldest and most overused, but just wait, because I’ve already heard rumblings that Facebook and Twitter are headed down the same path.

It’s not the technology, it’s the people.

Back when we used to visit people at their houses, after a couple of hours we’d slap our knees and say “Well, it’s time to head home.” The reason we headed home was because we were tired of our friends and wanted to go home. With technology the way it is today, we never get to leave the party.

I think 2011 is the year when people start balancing out their lives and putting their digital conversations into perspective. The party was fun, but we’re all bored with each other, and we’re going home.

Take that, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. We’re taking our lives back.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a Web consulting firm in Baltimore. Her e-mail address is [email protected] Follow her on Twitter, @marcidevries.

One comment

  1. I think rudeness has permeated society far beyond social media and email. Of course, those forms of communication have the immediate gratification aspect factored into (and part of) their rudeness. Not even to mention the misuse of the Outlook exclamation point for important messages.

    Somehow, however, we have progressed toward the point where it is acceptable for companies to make everything into an actual or proverbial sales call and ask you twenty questions when, really, you only want to order/purchase exactly what you have decided to purchase. And, interestingly, sales has turned their rude upselling into a situation where the customer is the impolite one for having to say “No, I do not want Widget B, I only came to purchase Widget A” or for cancelling no longer needed/wanted services (think of the horror stories about cancelling AOL services).

    Personally, I have stopped or limited transactions with certain companies because of their constant approach to “sales” over customer service. Try going into a Bath & Body Works one day and see how many times you are asked what you are looking for, if you want to try a new product, have a product shoved in your face, etc. Visits to that store are painful enough, and are made even more painful by a focus on sales over customer service.