Email Should Make Us More Productive, Not Less Interactive

I’m probably a rare Web/techie type. I don’t necessarily care about bigger, better, fancier Web sites. I want a simple site that acts as I expect it would without too many bells and whistles. After all, the Web is about quick information right? Get in, find what I need, get back out. Sure sometimes I can browse aimlessly on the Internet. Other times I’d rather not be attached to my computer screen.

I attack my email in the same manner: quickly. In fact, I tend to check my personal account only once or twice a week. (Did you just gasp?) Email is helpful for business. Not all business, but some business. It’s also useful for quick replies to family and friends. If I want to contact someone, though, email is not always my first thought. I’ll pick up the phone, maybe send a postcard. (For those born in the 1990s, a postcard is a paper rectangle with a picture on one side and blank on the other. You handwrite a note, address it, stamp it, and drop it in the real mail.)

U.S. Cellular’s Vice President, Jay Ellison, must feel the same way about our “advancements.” Last year, he instituted a policy whereby email between officemates is not allowed on Fridays. The alternative? Face-to-face discussions and phone calls. Employees are also encouraged to pick up the phone to contact clients on Fridays, rather than send email. Phone calls, even short ones, are more personal. (See Companies limit e-mail use to boost productivity for more on U.S. Cellular’s initiative.)

Technology has certainly made a lot of tasks in our daily lives easier. It’s also become a bit of an obsession to some. Yes, I fit this category sometimes, too. Particularly when faced with a new project.

The thing is, I’m interested in how technology can better my life, not become my life. I am all for simplifying. If that means sending an email, so be it. If email is complicating my to do list, then it’s not useful.

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Why Blog?

Blogs fascinate me. As yet another interesting commentary on our society, many employ blogs as a means to express themselves. There is no consistency. Some blogs are filled with facts and research, some are personal diatribes, some are strictly business.

In Seth Godin’s recent post, If no one reads your post, does it exist?, he argues “the act of writing a blog changes people.” While I’m new at this, I agree with his point. Having a blog means you must have something to say, and you must say it well. What better way to learn about yourself?

Careful, Flames Can Burn (Relationships, that is)

Social interaction has certainly changed over the years. Sarcasm, for instance, is commonplace in many conversations, but this wasn’t always the case. Now that the Internet provides a way to communicate by typing, all of the cues provided in speech and body language are lost.

One commonly used statistic is that in communication only 7 percent of the meaning is gained from the actual words. Roughly 38 percent comes from vocal cues and the remaining 55 percent from facial expressions. This implies that only very basic literal meaning can be gleaned from a typed message.

Who cares? Well, the person you just emailed might. In a New York Times essay, Daniel Goleman explains, “if we are typing while agitated, the absence of information on how the other person is responding makes the prefrontal circuitry for discretion more likely to fail” (Flame First, Think Later: New Clues to E-Mail Misbehavior, February 20). This means your message may be interpreted differently than you intended. You may have inadvertently offended the recipient because you were unable to alter your speech based on their reactions.

Routine communications have changed with technology. Take the absence of nonverbal cues and add the factor of people feeling less inhibited behind their computers, then there is a whole new dynamic to human interaction.

Before you hit send, read your message to make certain it is clear. It’s just good practice anyway.

Web 2.0: Information/Interaction On Demand

My first exposure to the Internet was in 1995 when a friend of mine said, “this is soooo cool” and proceeded to summon a description for that night’s episode of Friends. She was right- it was cool, but it also seemed horribly pointless. That information was both useless to me and, had I needed it, readily available in the newspaper and in TV commercials.

Of course, since then I’ve turned to the Internet for research on many occasions. In fact, being able to find the information I need at any time from my home proves quite useful.

Web 2.0 brings users to the forefront of this information hub by putting web content in the users hands.

A WTF (Where’s the Fire?) entry on Technorati explains Web 2.0 as being filled with user generated content. “[T]he owners of the website have simply provided a platform for us, the users to add content from our side,” it says. This brings a wealth of possibilities (and arguably junk) as you can find both facts and commentary on any given topic, provided you are able to discern the difference.

More than merely information on demand, the Internet has shifted to interaction on demand. Between MySpace, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and all variations thereof, users can find myriad ways to commune with others around the globe.

While this may have advantages, has it contributed to the demise of casual conversations in public spaces? After all, forward thinking elevators in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe eradicated “all the tedious chatting, relaxing and making friends that people were previously forced to do while waiting for elevators.”

The full effects of the Internet on human interaction remain to be seen. It will certainly make for an interesting sociological study.

For more on Web 2.0:
Wikipedia entry
Video from Michael Wesch, Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State University