Saturday, September 13, 2008

The whole "raising tide" proverb doesn't apply to floods.

They say that a rising tide floats all boats. The idea is, what improves one person's lot in life often can improve everyone's.

Well, that could be true, but only up to point. If that tide rises too fast, we're all screwed. Just ask the people of New Orleans how they feel about rising water.

Or, on second thought, don't. They'll probably punch you and then come looking for me. Cause I'm pretty sure you'd rat me out in a heartbeat.

Anyway, I don't really want to talk about tides. Boring! What I do want to talk about is email. I know, already you're sitting forward eagerly awaiting a good email talk. Here at LDWBotM, we're all about the 'lean in' experience.

I was on the street car the other day and I heard a woman complain that often she'll get a reply to her email that makes it clear that they skimmed her message, but didn't actually pay any attention to what she was saying.

Hands up everyone who feels the same way. (This works better in a room full of people, who then look at all the hands in the air, amazed that the speaker was so astute. As, I'm sure, you feel about me.)

Most people will tell you this is a function of people busily multitasking and rushing through things in a mild, continuous state of panic. (Much in the same way I make love.) And that's probably a part of it, sure. But it made me think of something else...

It made me think about literacy. Not the "See Jane Run" type of literacy, that's the basic stuff. I'm thinking of a higher form of literacy, where the reader is able to digest not only the text, but subtleties like tone, allegory, subtext, and the writer's intentions. And the writer, too, at a higher state of literacy, is able to better communicate those things.

Suddenly email has transformed every single person with a computer into a full time correspondent, either professionally at work, or as an at home amateur. There's hardly a job now worth having that doesn't involve writing and receiving multiple emails in a day. And who says we're any good at writing and reading them?

Maybe the reason that people can't retain any information in an email that's not bolded and in bullet points (and pointed out in a reply) is not only a factor of our busy, fractured mental spaces, but the plain, ugly truth that we're not very good at this higher level of literacy - at communicating and understanding at the level required in a good email.

Now, I don't want you to think I'm some kind of campaigning purist of language. Language, especially the English language, is in a constant state of becoming. It is always transforming, and despite what your grade three English teacher told you, there are no absolutes, no rules. There is no right or wrong in language, because language only exists if two or more people agree on a meaning. The word car only works if the person I'm communicating with shares the same idea of what car means. Spelling changes, meanings change; car could mean anything - the point of slang is that it is a non-traditional use of language shared by a distinct community. And all of this change and diversity makes languages stronger. So I'm not here to put a hate on txts and emoticons, okay? :)

The more we rely on the written word as a society, the more this higher level of literacy comes into play. There are some people (I suggest many, many people) who just don't have the reading and writing skills to truly communicate effectively in email, no matter how relaxed or unhurried they are when they read it.

Our lives are being flooded with email, and some boats just can't rise fast enough to keep up.

Did you see that? Huh? I ended it by referring back to my opening image. Basically, I rock.

Oh, sorry about the New Orleans thing.

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