I had an email exchange with two colleagues recently that went something like this:
COLLEAGUE 1: …Colleague 2 could pop in and see you on Tuesday to talk about this.
ME: (copied to both colleagues 1 and 2) You will have seen from my auto-reply that I am away until Wednesday but some time after that would be fine.
COLLEAGUE 2: OK, then, I’ll pop in and see you on Tuesday.
I didn’t reply ‘Pop in all you like, Colleague 2, but I won’t be here on Tuesday – see also my previous email and my auto-reply’ but I was very tempted. Instead, and more evilly, I decided not to say any more but to let colleague 2 hike all the way to my office on a fool’s errand.
This was only one example of a tendency to skim-read things which may be the result of the speed and relative easiness of modern communication methods compared to, for instance, engraving what you want to say on a tablet of stone, or catching a carrier pigeon and persuading it to fly to the right place with your message. I think probably the volume of electronic communications does have something to do with it, and also the emphasis in some areas on reacting swiftly rather than accurately to what’s going on. Many examples of the latter are to be found in the comments sections of online newspapers, but it would be nice if more people took more care in the workplace than they do when sounding off about UKIP or Greek debt or something else they know nothing about.
Of course communication is something I feel quite strongly about. My novels are not great literature by any standards, but I do try hard to make it possible for people to understand what I’m talking about and to follow the plot of each of them. This weekend I hope to test this out on one of my latest efforts, ‘The Petitioners’, as I read through the printed copy I have just received. I’m fairly worried about this one as I had to add a huge chunk into it between the middle and the end, but when I flicked through the pages of the printed version I realised that the end came more abruptly than I had wanted it to, even in spite of the extra section.
I’ve also just completed the first draft of another Edwardian novella. I think I may be addicted to this little series – the stories are great fun to write, and I’ve added a couple more characters to the little group I started with.
Taking up the topic of communication again, I’m afraid I failed to communicate clearly the message from Kwikfit that my Panda had a serious problem with the ECU, whatever that is, to the Fiat garage, who seem to have translated this into there being something wrong with the spark plugs. If I’d known cars still had spark plugs I’m sure I could have managed to take them out and clean them myself! This whole experience almost made me quite nostalgic for the days when it was possible even to change the spark plugs yourself, or to plug up leaks in the radiator with some magic stuff that looked a bit like chewing-gum, or when an AA man could advise you that if the car didn’t start you should hit the starter motor with the piece of wood he thoughtfully provided.