I showed my friend Angel one of my cool new toys yesterday--a set of lenses for the iPhone camera. My photographer/writer friend, Robin Templeton, told me about them --from PhotoJojo, if anyone else is interested. And I thought a fellow iPhone/techie like Angel would appreciate these. And she did.
"I want those!" Angel exclaimed. "Where did you get them?"
I picked up my phone.
"I can email you the link," I said. I was actually starting a new email on my phone when--
"Text it to me," she said. "I never read my email."
Never reads her email?
This actually explains a lot.
And no, I don't mean that as a criticism. Confession time: I don't always check my phone messages every day. And I don't always handle emails well. I check for email obsessively, but I don't always close the loop by reading the whole email right away, responding appropriately, taking any action needed or adding that action to my project list, and filing or deleting the email. This is my goal--this is how I know I should handle email--but the reality? Arg. As a result, whenever I get busy, my email box has a frightening tendency to become bloated with emails in every stage of handling. A tendency I have to fight by reminding myself, daily, that it's easier to keep up than catch up. That mantra applies to housekeeping, too. And since I have recently been in the throes of finishing a first draft (of The Hen of the Baskervilles, which will come out next year), I'm not inviting anyone over to dinner just now, and my apologies to anyone who's waiting for an email response from me.
No, Angel's comment drove home something that I've been thinking about lately--the fact that in our modern world, one of the most important and yet really basic responsibilities of friendship has become exponentially harder: that we at least make an effort to communicate with our friends in the way that is most comfortable and convenient to them.
Used to be, when you wanted to get in touch with your friends, you called them. You picked an appropriate time, and you called. Either they were there or they weren't. If they weren't, you tried again. Answering machines improved on this because when your friends weren't there, you could still get in touch with them. And if the people you were calling had different ideas about appropriate times--if they slept late, went to bed early, or devoted their evenings to family time or novel writing--the answering machine no doubt saved many friendships.
Cell phones came along, and made life easier and more complicated at the same time. If I have my friend's home phone, cell phone, and office phone, which does she prefer I use? Keeping track of that could be tough, especially since the answer wasn't static. This friend, formerly a landline person, now has a cell phone she loves and prefers. That cell phone loving friend just moved to a remote area with bad coverage and has reluctantly become a landline user. This friend now works at a secure government facility and cannot access her phone during the day, so if I need to reach her right away--like to prevent her from making a long drive directly from work to a meeting that has been cancelled--I need to call the work number that is under all other circumstances off limits. Complicated.
Then email came along, and at first it seemed to make communications so much easier, at least for those of us who are comfortable with the written word. You can think of something you want to tell someone at 3 in the morning and just send it. If you need to tell the same thing to ten friends, you can do it in a single email. You can attach documents, include links. Can you tell I'm a big fan of email?
But I know everyone isn't. And email brought complications. People began acquiring multiple emails--which is primary? Are the others even still working? Spam happened, and the resulting spam filters. Did the recipient get my email or is it stuck in her spam filter? Is she not answering because she has been on vacation or because she doesn't want to answer me? Or did she, perhaps, answer and get stuck in my spam filter? Or did she change email addresses suddenly, without enough time to notify everyone, as sometimes happens when an email is hacked. Or is this one of those people who signed up for an email only because it seems you can't get by without one in our modern world. One of those people who only checks her email once a week or so?
I began trying to keep track of my friends' preferences. This one responds more quickly to email. That one clearly prefers to hear from me by phone. But about the time I figured out the need to do this, along came text messaging, and Facebook messages, and I have no idea how to get in touch with anyone anymore.
And now I realize that there was a time when I was foolish enough to complain to or about people who just didn't "get" my communications preferences. I remember whining about certain people who always called me on my cell phone when I preferred to talk on my land line, because the sound quality was better. Or who called in the middle of my writing time. Or who left me voice mails on my land line when I was traveling and checking it even less often than usual. Or who use an email other than my primary email and then complain when I don't respond immediately. I realize now that I was being unreasonable.
Unless I'm one of your close friends, you probably have no idea how I prefer to be contacted this week. So what right do I have to complain if you don't guess correctly about how best to contact me?
Some of the old rules still apply. Like unless I know the person well enough that I'm sure it's okay, I wait till after nine a.m. and don't call after 9 a.m. And a few new commonsense ones, like not sharing anything through Facebook, even in a private message, that I would blush to see on the front page of the Washington Post someday.
I wish more people would follow the commonsense practice of not cluttering up listservs with "me, too!" and "congratulations!" messages. Someone posts that she's gotten a good review. That's nice. But if forty-seven people then chime in on the list with congratulations . . . well, the odds that I will continue reading that list diligently diminish significantly. Maybe I should be more proactive, on lists I'm a moderator or at least an established member, at stepping in with messages like "Let's have a collective round of applause for so-and-so; and please, those of you who want to add your personal congratulations, do so privately."
Netiquette (Internet etiquette) gets more complicated every day. Anyone else have any helpful hints or pet peeves?