It drives me nuts, this one. In your world, is it OK to email someone and then to tell me “I just spoke to her and she says it’s fine”? In my world, you have done nothing of the sort. It doesn’t have to be email, it could be an IM, an SMS, a tweet, a Facebook post, and doubtless many other things your mum never knew she should warn you about before she lost you to your teenage bedroom and a dollop of Web Africa uncapped internet access. Whatever it was, the sure thing is that you never actually spoke to her in what has rather suddenly become the old fashioned sense of the word. Is ‘speaking’, in your world, generated by vocal chords or keyboards?
In our office, populated by Cape Town’s finest array of wonderful people, I’m surrounded by quiet. It’s an uncomfortable silence for me. Nobody talks. Speech is an unnecessary irritation for any Web African under 25 years old (which is >90% of us!). To my knowledge, I am the only one who still reaches for the phone as my first port of call. I would put money on it that a few of the people I call on an internal extension have never received a voice call “bbbbring, bbbbbring …… bbbbbbring, bbbbbring” before. Ever. I can’t remember the last time I did (with the notable exception, of course, of our customer care team who spend all day fielding calls from other folk like me over 30).
I could use our internal IM system, with its unfamiliar protocol of a polite warm-up message “Hi Sarah”, ending the message there, sending it and then immediately writing the thing I wanted to write in the first place in a new message. But it’s so boring to have these conversations staring at a screen when I could be having a good old chin wag and finding out what else is going on, picking up that Sarah is stressed/happy/funny and all the rest of those things I find it so much easier to pick up in a voice than I do in a line or two of text. And, on that note, how on earth can anyone reach a state of discovery in reading a tweet, proudly limited to a maximum of about seven words?
The problem is, I think they might be right, these noise haters, because my belief that not face-to-face talking to someone is superficial and contrived doesn’t really add up. Not many of us who do speak are trained psychologists and we certainly don’t listen to much of what is being said to us, yet we do have to hear it all, often at unnecessary length. In other words, all that ‘speaking’ does is to pressure the recipient of the spoken word into a time-restricted, ill-considered response which might well not be a true reflection of their feelings.
Speech requires a very immediate response to another’s words. Often it makes us panic. Thank God the classic salesman, he’s called Gary, can no longer harangue us into submission. “Madam, have I got a deal for you, this here vacuum cleaner is the number one world wide seller with suction power recorded stronger than tornado Fred’s, I’ve sold three of them in your street within the last hour and, because you’re a fine looking woman, I will give you a 65% discount off our normal price, right here, right now”.
Gary is a dying breed, and for a good reason. It’s called the internet. In our online world Gary probably wouldn’t get further than your spam catcher, but if he snake oils his way through with a mis-leading subject line, and ends up in your inbox, you can check him out at your leisure. And not just him, but his company and his products too, and without having to muster up the courage to tell him to bugger off to his face, which is never nice, you can either ignore him and hope he’s goes away, you can delete him with a click or you can sit up and scream “Gary, you are my dream come true, I’ve been looking for that vacuum cleaner for years”. But you won’t, because you will simply search for the best way to get hold of his product without having to deal with him.
It’s quite ironic really. The whole internet thing is about the immediacy of information we would previously have had to wait eons for, which we, Web Africa, worry ourselves stupid about by hosting your company website and giving the world 24/7 access to your products online. Yet, strangely, here you all are trying to slow it down so you can crossdot your IT’s before you respond. Good for you. You are human, after all. Sadly, I think I must be Gary. I will change, but I’m not going down without a fight.