Communicating in the Digital Age
I confess. I’m a junkie for things digital. I love “playing with” the technology so I can learn to use it. I often am guilty of using a technology, such as publishing this blog, just to see if I can do it, and then later I have to struggle to find something worth publishing. That’s one reason my blog isn’t as frequently-updated as others that I read regularly. They, it would appear, had something to communicate to begin with and then found the technology that gave them an easy way to communicate it. I, on the other hand, had found the technology to post items and then rarely had anything worth posting. “What I wore to work this morning” type posts don’t attract many readers, and after a while, they become boring even to the poster.
When I first discovered that I could email people I knew, I would often send almost anything I found of interest to almost everyone on my mailing list. Little did I realize how frequently what I found interesting wasn’t necessarily of interest to my friends. Then as others also learned to use email and began to do the same things, I started receiving the same kind of stuff from them, and often it was the same stuff I had sent out earlier to them or others. As soon as the shoe was nicely fitted to the other foot, I realized the burden receiving unsolicited messages can be. Occasionally, something fresh would come my way, but more often what I got was something I had seen earlier. That’s why the Snopes web site became and continues to be so valuable to me, because they provide a valuable resource by cataloging the Internet flotsam and jetsam so that one can separate fact from fiction, fresh from stale. But the Internet is a big place and no one can see everything new that is posted to it, so the idea of sharing what you discover still seems valid in some cases. Passing along what you receive along to others just naturally follows, I guess. So I live with receiving some things again and again, as I suppose other do as well.
Yesterday, I did it again. I began experimenting with an ability my email program, TheBat!, gives me to do a mass mailing. I created a group of about 30 people from my address book, friends and relatives, that I communicate with semi-regularly, and I sent out a message tailored to each of them, announcing that I planned to write them on some regular schedule (I suggested once a week, but in fact it may be less often) so that I’d not overlook writing personal information I wanted to share with them on a more regular basis. Like everyone else, I have a number of people with whom I exchange email regularly, but also like everyone else I suppose, there are some in my address book that I fail to write as frequently as I think I should. In my initial message, I gave them the option of saying they would prefer NOT to receive such messages from me, and so far, only one has asked that I not send him any “mass mailings.” It was the words, mass mailing list, that he rejected I think. I will of course honor his request, but it helped to point out a basic misunderstanding of just what a mass mailing list is, I think. So I wrote him back this message (with his name and identity redacted, of course).
He said: I do not want to be on a mass mailing list, Perry. We have corresponded on a personal basis for so many years, that I would miss that. If your popularity and correspondence lists have grown cumbersome, please relegate me to an occasional personal epistle.
I’ll be glad to remove you from this list if you wish, but since your message implies a misunderstanding, please read on below.
He said: I know it is probably becoming a chore to keep up with everything — and, I feel sure I have grown to be a big, fat thorn in your ass. But, I guess, that’s life. I would miss hearing from you: we have covered so many topics over the years – and it has been most enjoyable. At least, keep me in your thoughts: there is a certain Heimweh that grows with age. You will feel it someday.
I don’t consider you a “thorn in my ass” but rather a dear friend, and being on the list in question would not mean any change in our correspondence otherwise. So you won’t get to “miss” hearing from me, unless you are asking that I remove you from my Address Book (which I don’t think you are, by the way) or all mass mailings I do (which you probably are asking but don’t realize it).
Just to give a parallel, lets say I asked you to remove me from your mass mailings. What, you say, I don’t do any mass mailings! Of course you do. Whenever you send a message to more than one person, that is a mass mailing … just not a personalized one. You do a mass mailing every Christmas with your annual Christmas letter. Every time you receive a joke you like, or a funny picture, or whenever an old mutual friend gets sick and dies and you send your announcement to more than one person, you are doing a mass mailing … just not a personalized one.
So in keeping with your wishes, I have removed you from this list, and since you don’t want to be on mass mailing lists, I’ll be sure that when I send out anything to more than one person that you aren’t on those lists either. If I have something to communicate to you alone, of course, I’ll still send you a message. So, upon further review, I guess because of your aversion to being on a “mass mailing list” it may mean that our correspondence will lessen after all, simply because as I’m going through my distribution for some of the things I forward to more than one person I’ll not be including you because that would be putting you on a mass mailing list and breaking my promise.
I can understand your reaction to being on a mass mailing list, but when you think about it, you’ve have been on many, and you even use them yourself. You just don’t think of them as such. Still, unless you tell me otherwise, I’ve removed you from any mass mailings I send. You can let me know (in a personal message of course ) how it affects the volume of mail you receive from me.
And just so I can feel the effect of this choice of yours, please reciprocate by removing me from any mass mailings you do, too. Let’s see how this goes. I fear it won’t help our communication, but we’ll see.
Since I’ve just sent that message to him, I don’t know whether he’ll decide that his understanding of a mass mailing is in error or whether he’ll stick to his guns and retain his wish not to be included. I will of course honor his request if that’s what he wants.
The experience does show, however, that playing with technology, just to learn to use it, is fraught with unforeseen consequences to relationships.