re: The Trouble with Email

20140426-002633.jpg

Technology is brilliant. At the touch of a few buttons, I can send my furthest-away friends in New Zealand a message, picture or video that arrives just as quickly as if I send it to a person in the same room as me. Postman Pat has now largely been reduced to being a parcel delivery guy and with an astounding 182.9 billion emails sent and received per day in 2013 (See: http://bit.ly/1hyizk5) it’s not hard to see why. Whether for business or pleasure, email is just one aspect of modern communication that has completely changed our lives. But despite its brilliance, I have found a few problems, questions and unimportant things to have a bit of a moan about!

Firstly, it’s a five letter word that most of us say or hear multiple times a day. Is it Email? email? e-mail? I am a bit pedantic about spelling and believe me, if I make a mistake on here and realise later (or worse, have it pointed out to me) it troubles me more than it probably should. I would therefore like to know how the devil to write electronic mail in its correct shortened form. For the purposes of this entry, from now on I will stick with ’email’. It’s easier to type. I should warn you, I will be tapping into my inner pedant quite a bit here. Part of the beauty of modern communications is its speed, efficiency and convenience. I value these things. However, I also quite like proper English and the idea of some basic guidelines when we communicate through cyberspace.

In the modern world, it is a golden rule that you have to reply to an email straight away. The immediacy of modern communication technology and accessibility to our inboxes almost anytime, anywhere, means that our expectation levels regarding how promptly we get back to one another have been elevated to a slightly alarming level. I’m sure this is partly down to the business world where it seems if you don’t check your Blackberry for new messages every 15 seconds, you will probably go bankrupt. I’m not a business woman and yet I often catch my thumb hovering over the ‘check mail’ button far more than it needs to be. I’m making a stand. I should say here that I absolutely want to be polite, helpful and responsive. If I’ve missed a deadline or things are getting slower than snail mail then a little nudge is fair enough. But when I get an email reminding me to reply to another email that I have barely even had time to read, I just start to think the person on the other end of the broadband fibre needs to chill out a bit. I promise I’ll reply as soon as I can and that everything will work out. If you’re really, really panicking and even the little red ‘!’ isn’t conveying the urgency of your message, you can always regress to the 20th century and phone me instead.

The world of electronic communications has also led to the development of some strange jargon. We are asked to “ping back” replies. We hope we’ve typed someone’s address correctly so that our message doesn’t “bounce”. We all hate “spam”. The abbreviated ‘text speak’ that is used widely on text messages and social media has also made its way into the world of email, despite the fact we don’t have to fit our messages into a measly 160 characters. I’ve just done an experiment. “You” takes roughly 0.1 seconds longer to type than “u”. And it looks nicer. As for “c u l8r”, well… do I really need to say anything more?

Sometimes I have to write emails to people I don’t know and may never meet. The information I have is: their name, the thing I am emailing about, my name. I write the email. I then spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how to address whoever I am writing to and what to say when I sign off. Do you go for “Hi…” or “Dear…”? Do you use their first name or a full title? Sometimes when I’m emailing an organisation without knowing who will be reading my message at the other end I have no idea how to open proceedings and end up with a creepy / cheesy, “Hi there”. As for the sign off, I definitely spend too long deciding how I am trying to portray myself and my message. This will probably get me in all sorts of trouble with people I do send emails to at some point, but here are some examples:

Sign off What I really mean
Regards I don’t know you / I’ve been forced to email you / You’re annoying me
Kind regards I’m grateful for your help / I’m sucking up / I’m trying to sound sophisticated
Best wishes I like you / I feel our email exchange has reached its logical end
Thanks Please do whatever I have asked
Cheers I’m trying to sound breezy and relaxed / Whatever is “cool”

 

I’ll also mention inappropriate kisses at this point. If I don’t really know you, we are talking about something formal, making arrangements or having a ‘conversation’ over email, I won’t sign off xxx. I don’t expect you to either.

Considering email is supposed to make our communications easier, I do sometimes wonder whether people could try a bit harder to make things more efficient. For example, on a sports team, lots of emails tend to fly around a regular distribution list to organise fixtures, give or request information and so on. When people then use a previous email to get in touch with everybody without changing the email’s subject box, it all gets very confusing. For example: you receive 10 emails about next week’s game. Somebody then decides to invite everybody on the team to their birthday party. When you’re frantically searching for the details of said party, the email about “Next Saturday’s Game” is not the first place I tend to look.

A friend of mine who works in a government office (that’s right: I have friends in high places) told me that her pet hate is when somebody on the desk opposite emails her. Now obviously there are exceptions to this rule: sending a lot of data or providing information that needs to be read and recorded may have to be done via computer. But when somebody calls across the office to you from three metres away, “I’ve just emailed asking you to pop past my desk when you have a minute”, it does make you wonder about the efficiency of how things are done in some workplaces.

‘Reply alls’ can cause no end of hilarity in a sports team. Jokes, usually at the expense of somebody on the distribution list, whizz around cyberspace spreading laughter and joy. Unfortunately hitting ‘reply all’ by mistake can also lead to that really awkward moment where you share a detail or a story with many more people than you meant to. Alternatively, you send what you think is an hysterical response to everyone, only for it to be met with no reply from anyone: a techno-tumbleweed moment.

Finally, we come to the end of emails. I literally mean the end of emails. I don’t really understand the necessity for a disclaimer that is 30 times the length of the message you’ve received. I know this is probably down to the ridiculous lawsuits that are filed for some things. However, when my phone fails to download a one line email because the disclaimer beneath it is too big for it to cope with, the main person I feel like suing is whoever invented email disclaimers.

As I said at the beginning, I think our communications technology is great. It certainly makes life easier in many ways. Some people who have made it this far down are probably thinking I need to relax and not worry about whether the subject box has been correctly filled in; to them, I send my regards. To those of you who agree with me and think we can makes things better, I really do give you my best wishes.

Follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling

Or to receive email updates on the blog direct to your inbox (how apt), click the “follow via email” button.

Advertisements

I Know What They’re Up To… But I Fall For It Anyway

A sneak peak into my fridge.

A sneak peek into my fridge.

I’m currently undergoing the slightly painful process of looking for a new car insurance provider. The way I see it, there are a couple of dangers to this: 1. Filling in a form wrongly and voiding my policy if I do need to claim and (more worryingly) 2. Missing out on a free Meerkat toy.

Supermarkets, companies selling just about anything, banks… they all try to reel us in with sneaky promotions and freebies. I think we all know they are doing it. We don’t want to be taken in by ‘The Man’ and tricked by his little ploys to make us spend our hard-earned cash. Even if you think you’re wise to these sales tactics, I bet you’ve been unable to resist a ‘buy one get one free’ at some point in the recent past.

‘Comparing the market’ is, in theory, a reasonably efficient and sensible way to sift through the various companies offering us insurance products. By filling in one form online yesterday, I was provided with over 40 quotes for how much money I could part with to insure my wheels. Unfortunately, the efficiency of the whole process is hindered when I know that the next few weeks is likely to be punctuated by phone calls and emails pestering me to choose an insurer, even if I’ve ticked the appropriate boxes to avoid this happening. I had this trouble a few months back when sorting out pet insurance for our little furball of fun. Unless “More Than Freeman” himself rings me up, I don’t want to hear any more from you: please leave me alone.

Have you ever looked in your fridge and realised that the supermarket have forced you to stockpile yoghurts as if you won’t be able to leave the house for the next three months? I only need to buy enough yoghurts to last two people a few days. Instead, my inability to resist a multi-buy promotion can mean that instead I buy 15 yoghurts for the price of 14, saving me a grand total of about 20p. Brilliant. I do have quite strong feelings about the types of food supermarkets include in these promotions: there should be more fruit and vegetables on offer, and less chocolate and ready meals. That said, I don’t think we should encourage food waste either, so I’m not saying five cabbages for the price of four is the right way forward.

Then of course there’s the classic point-of-sale marketing. You don’t need that chewing gum, sweets or chocolate, but it’s right by the till and, well, you are a bit peckish. The worst bit about this is it preys on children and the parents who have just dragged them around a supermarket against their will. We all know why sugary, tempting products are placed where they are, but it’s surprising how often you pick one up. Shops everywhere also make you feel like you’re saving a fortune by odd-number pricing. For example, you can buy a car for £9,999 and convince yourself what a great deal it is (ONLY four figures!). There’s no two ways about it: You’ve spent ten grand.

Even paying for things can be more expensive than you think. I have a credit card that allows me to collect Air Miles whenever I use it. This leads to all sorts of trouble when I’m charged for the privilege of paying. I sit there trying to figure out whether the additional £4.50 I am giving the bank to “process” my payment (i.e. for doing its job) is worth the Air Miles I will gain. I’m reasonably sure it’s rarely worth it, but I regularly pay that stupid £4.50 anyway.

I do realise that nothing I have written about here is groundbreaking stuff. We all know what they’re up to! We like to think we are savvy enough to understand the marketing we are constantly subjected to. But at some point we still end up coming home from the supermarket with enough blueberries to feed a small army or letting a bunch of Meerkats sort out our car insurance because we are actually a little bit excited by the possibility of receiving a cuddly toy in the post. So maybe we aren’t so smart after all.

The Best Things in Life are Tea (and biscuits)

20140409-140437.jpg

Overall, the last week has not been up there in the best seven days of my life. I’m sure I’ll write more about that another time, but right now I’m trying to see things through the prism of a charming little phrase a friend of mine said to me: “When one door closes, ten windows open.” Other than that, I’ve been focusing on the little things in life that can single-handedly cheer you up, even if it’s just for a few minutes or to bring a smile to your face.

There’s a great scene in “Bridget Jones’ Diary” where good old Bridget is feeling rather down in the dumps and so responds in the only way she knows how: eat ice cream. LOTS of ice cream. Different people turn to different foodie friends to cheer them up: for some it’s chocolate, for others cake. Eating in itself is one of those things that just makes you feel better, but there’s also some science behind this. Studies have shown that foods such as chocolate can elicit biochemical responses within the body and brain. One such effect is increased production of endorphins, which can have a positive effect on mood and an increased feeling of happiness. In the long term, factors such as weight gain and ill health don’t make a comfort food diet the route to happiness, but in the short term we all know it can make us feel a bit better.

I love that feeling when you wake up, look at the alarm clock, wonder where on earth you are and what you are supposed to be doing… then realise it’s Sunday and you can have a lie in. Rolling over and going back to sleep just because you can is one of life’s little pleasures. I also put afternoon naps into this category. Feeling horrific and grouchy at 3pm isn’t so bad if you wake up at 4pm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I realise that in today’s busy, chaotic way of life, and particularly in the world of work, scheduling in naps isn’t always possible. But if your eyes start drooping and your head nodding during that post-lunch lull, find a quiet corner and let yourself drop off for a few minutes. Totally worth a few funny looks from co-workers and maybe even a minor telling off by your boss.

Thankfully, the sun has finally turned up in the last few weeks, but it’s still not as if we live in a tropical climate. Getting warm and cosy after becoming cold, wet, and possibly miserable – whether on a sports field, caught short in the rain whilst you’re out shopping, or working outdoors in winter is always comforting. Coming home to a nice hot shower always makes you feel better. Personally I am not a fan of baths. It never stays hot for long enough, but you always burn yourself before getting in; it’s time-consuming to prepare; you can’t read soggy pages in steamy air; and in general I don’t really get what is relaxing about sweating into the water you are supposed to be cleaning yourself with. Anyway, whatever floats your rubber duck. Cold day + warm water of your choice = cosy and content.

Hot water is also a vital ingredient in that wonderful concoction that we drink millions of cups of every day. Ahh, lovely tea. “Shall I put the kettle on?”… don’t ask my friend, just do it. For anyone who is wondering, mine is a strong brew with a dash of milk. I believe one of my main strengths in life is making a good cuppa. And that makes me happy.

Then there are those little one off moments that can give you a feeling of joy, relief or comfort. Scoring a goal in a big game. Finding an unexpected fiver in your pocket. Getting a question correct on University Challenge that the geeks on TV didn’t know. A hug when you’re feeling down (there is still a time and a place, people – I want to feel ace but it’s my personal space). It might be something you’ve worked for, something somebody does for you, or just a stroke of luck. But in a world where it often feels like we should dream big, want more, work hard to ‘earn’ our happiness, I think it’s really important that we enjoy the little things just as much as the big ones. For me, this has largely been a week to forget. But I have still smiled at a friend’s kind words, laughed at a joke, felt a little bit better about things after a PG Tips, a biscuit and a cuddle. Because a lot of the best things in life really are free (and tea).

The Definitive Guide to What Not to Eat on a First Date

first date food

The classic no-no on a first date is widely accepted as spaghetti bolognaise. It’s understandable. It’s slippery, tricky to eat without slurping unattractively and covered in red sauce that leaves you with a dodgy-looking attempt at lipstick however many times you engage napkin with face. Don’t be fooled though. There are plenty of other dangerous food options on the menu. If you think this girl or guy could be a keeper, think twice before you order…

It’s difficult to eat handheld food and maintain eye contact, avoid gobbling and generally sustain a level of respectability. Fajitas and burgers may seem like a safe choice, but eating with your hands isn’t necessarily the sophisticated look you may be trying to portray. Gesticulation, which may be a necessary addition to the funny/dramatic/interesting story you are telling, is impossible whilst grasping a half eaten wrap or taking on a rack of ribs. When you also consider the chances of dropping mayonnaise, ketchup or fajita sauce, it’s clearly a risky choice.

Garlic bread is troublesome for obvious post-dinner reasons. Please avoid.

We’ve been told in recent days that we should try to eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day. That’s quite a lot, and for the health conscious dater it may mean you need to top up your daily intake on your meal out. A word of warning though: spinach is a poorly thought-out choice. It’s better to risk only eating six veggies that day rather than smiling at the end of the night with green bits between your teeth. There is no one in the world who thinks this is an attractive look.

Overly chewy food can be a bit of a hindrance to flowing conversation. If you’re getting stuck into a chewy piece of steak, you may have just chosen a bad restaurant, but avoid it if you can and you’ll also avoid awkward silences, talking with your mouth full and that horrible moment where you try to speak, breathe and swallow your mouthful simultaneously.

I don’t know why would be eating donuts on a first date, but if you are, be careful. Projectile jam is a threat to anyone’s ability to look relaxed and in control of a situation.

Finally, be wary of dishes that are challenging to eat. There are two categories here: foods you aren’t sure how to eat and meals involving chopsticks. The first time I ever had edamame beans, I didn’t realise you weren’t supposed to eat the shell as well as the beans inside. A chewy and quite bitter-tasting mistake to make (thankfully made with a friend, not on a date). If you’re particularly proficient with chopsticks, you may be able to make yourself look cool and make sushi look easy. If you’re not, you’ll probably look a bit special and a bit of a mess. Plus you’ll take so long to eat your meal that your date might get bored and leave. Swallow your pride and ask for a fork.

Lady and the Tramp shared a lovely romantic moment over spaghetti, but there is no guarantee that the same will happen to everyone. Don’t be scared to go out for dinner on a date, just stick to food that keeps you looking great.