Everyone knows that Patience is lost but few realize that Paragraph is in ICU and even Sentence is MIA. Welcome to the digital age where instantaneous communication is possible and is now demanded. Even the name given to the “convenience” provided by E-mail in both personal and business settings to interrupt any conversation with impunity is called Instant Messaging. What was once conceived of as a fun way to announce your arrival into a group, the modern way of joining a cocktail party conversation, has become the screaming brat yanking on Mommy’s skirt. If you don’t respond to the pop-up immediately, forget why, you get “nudged” after the blink of an eye. If you do have the opportunity to unobtrusively set your IM to let the interrupting party know you are busy, he will invariably want one last word, “When are you free?”. Instead of good manners, technology relies on lies. Self- preservation requires you to pretend you are away or offline just to get some peace.
Your time is worthless but it appears others’ is precious. It has become clear from receiving replies to E-mails, that no one reads what you have written. God forbid you should try to communicate a complete thought in a paragraph. The responses clearly indicates that the reader, you can call her that, has merely skimmed the first, and possibly last, sentence and given an off the cuff reply. This is a defense mechanism that has evolved from the demands of E-mail. If the rule now is that you must reply to an E-mail in 30 seconds or less, you don’t have time to read a paragraph. As long as you are seen to have responded instantly, you have fulfilled your part of the digital devil’s bargain. Not reading the original E-mail completely then results in the back and forth of a string of E-mails setting out point by point what was requested to start with. So much for time well spent.
The solution is to throw the paragraph under the bus and write E-mails merely as bullet points without the bullets. One point, one line.Final line, crux of the E-mail. No more than five points in all. If attentions spans are next to nonexistent, at least this technique comes close to making sure you have a shot at your recipient seeing your meaning and knowing what is expected of them.
This solution is responsible for the sentence itself to be reduced to a picture on a milk carton. No verb, no subject, no matter. And now even the word is falling back of the pack. OMG.
Oscar Wilde said that to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both, looks likes carelessness. Today to lose one means of communication may be regarded as the price of progress; to lose all looks like the future.
–- E.E. Whiting, an attorney who lives in Princeton, is a frequent contributor to U.S. 1.