Who read the story about unanswered email in The New York Times this weekend? Anyone? Bueller?
Well, I did. And let me tell you. I at once nodded in agreement and hung my head in shame.
Here’s the gist: “For every fiery screed or gushy, tear-streaked confession in the ethersphere, it seems there’s a big patch of grainy, unresolved black. Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.”
There’s something so frustrating about writing an email that goes unanswered. In my professional life, I’ll pitch a story, follow up, and then… nothing. My most brilliant idea, lost in the ether. Or so it feels. In my social life, the non-response elicits fears that a friend is mad at me coupled with confusion about whether she received my note in the first place.
But then, I must admit: I’m totally guilty. I’ve got a backlog of starred emails in my inbox that I need to respond to. I’m going to, immediately, if I could just stop forgetting (slash procrastinating).
Shame on me. I know.
The problem with our culture of unresponsiveness, other than the fact that it’s rude, is that email and text is increasingly becoming the friendship communication method of choice. No longer are the days of two-hour phone calls. But if people aren’t responding to emails or texts, then what? What happens to plans with friends?
There are a million reasons why making friends feels harder and harder these days. People are so busy on Facebook they forget about in-person communication. They’re so overscheduled that they hardly have time for pre-existing friends, let along new ones. Plus, we’re scared potential BFFs will think we’re weird if we ask them out.
And then, if we conquer all these roadblocks, there’s still the question of how we’ll connect with our new friend. Phone? Email? Text? And no matter the method, will we ever hear back?
It does seem that the more methods of communication available to us–email, phone, text, IM, Gchat, Facebook chat, Twitter, Foursquare, on and on and on–the less likely we are to use any of them reliably. For me, the more communication methods that are aimed at me, the harder it is for me to be in touch in the first place. The barrage of messages, coupled with the necessity of keeping track of who chats which way and the sometimes simultaneous arrival of an email, voicemail and texts, can feel incredibly overwhelming. And eventually, paralyzing. Instead of making the plans with whatever potential BFF is willing to hang out with me that day, I just sit there, staring at the computer and the phone, wishing I had more energy.
This isn’t an excuse. Leaving messages unattended is unacceptable, and I can at least say I’m caught up with all blog-related emails from readers, as far as I know. What it is, I think, is an argument for how sometimes more choices make us less happy.
Bottom line, of course, is simple: Write back!
Have you found that corresponding with friends is harder these days? Do emails and text messages go unanswered for days? (Like I said, I’m plenty guilty, but am working on it…) Is this unresponsiveness responsible for the difficulty involved with friending?