Communication breakdown

Last updated 12:55 26/09/2012

Yesterday I read a post by Damian Christie in which he made reference to the fact that for quite a while he didn't really "get" Twitter. That's a thing that several people have said to me over the last couple of years, and as easy as it would be to write every one of them off as an irredeemable luddite, I think it's safe to say that there's probably a good reason for them having that attitude.

Twitter is weird and is a bit hard to make sense of to start with. I imagine it's a bit like ham radio. I have never used ham radio and I'm guessing that if I tried to I would probably get it all quite wrong to start with. In fact, I know exactly what would happen.

First, I would run through every line of dialogue I could recall as uttered by a trucker in movies and television.

"Ten-four, good buddy, breaker, breaker, over an' out."

Possibly followed by a rousing chorus or two of Convoy.

I would then move on to the "Things said over intercoms" portion of the programme.

"Cleanup on aisle 4 please, that's a cleanup on aisle 4..."

"TK-421 why aren't you at your post? TK-421, do you copy?"

Before ending up with modern classic...

"Houston...we have a problem."

This is just the kind of annoying a-hole I am and I make no apologies for the fact.

My point is that there are specific protocols that you're supposed to use when communicating via ham radio and that it's okay not to instinctively know what they are...but that you should probably try and find out. Doing the Twitter equivalent of "check, check, two, two, two" is okay to start with but sooner or later you'd better extend your repertoire or the whole exercise will be a colossal waste of time.

At least we've all got the email thing sorted though, right? Email has been around for over 40 years. It is as commonplace as dirt. We've all been using email for years and understand how it works.

Yeah, and I didn't for most of my life believe that ham radio had something to do with actual ham. The porky kind. Riiiight.

I'd wager a radio made of ham that more people cock up email on a daily basis than any other form of written communication.

Take list-servs. Very handy things for keeping abreast of events or news within a community of like-minded people. Also one of the most infuriating banes of modern life and for one simple reason - people who don't understand that they're replying to all. Those people stoke the fire of contempt deep within my belly. Their sin is small, oh but the rage...it is so great

If you've never experienced the joy of the oblivious reply to all, it goes something like this. Someone posts a message about an event perhaps, asking for expressions of interest. Then one person replies that yes, they would be interested in attending that event. Followed by another. And another. And another. Before you know it, you've got a clutch of new emails all saying nothing more interesting than "yes".

My favourite though (and by "favourite" I mean "moves me to tear my hair out by the fistful") is the "unsubscribe avalanche". This occurs when someone who decides that they don't want to be on the list-serv anymore (possibly because they're sick of all the "yes, I would like to come to that event" messages) decides to unsubscribe from the list. Having not read the information about unsubscribing that accompanies all list-serv messages, they decide that the best way of doing this is to just send an email containing the word "unsubscribe" to hundreds of people. And then someone else thinks that's a good idea and they do it too. And then someone else. And so on, and so on.

One sunny afternoon I watched as my inbox filled up with something like 25 unsubscribe messages. I'm unsure how many of those people wanted to unsubscribe just to get away from all the unsubscribe messages but I was certainly considering it by that stage. And the terrible thing is that part of you wants to send a simple message explaining what the correct process is, but in doing so you'd just be adding to the influx of unwanted mail in someone else's inbox. There is not escape from the "unsubscribe avalanche". It is the email vortex of doom.

I also suffer a similar problem in the form of people who don't realise the list they're using includes people not in the same office as them. Over the years I've had invitations to meetings, training, pub quizzes, openings and other events all occurring in cities that I don't live in. Not to mention reminders to buy raffle tickets, announcements of the births of children whose parents I've never met, invitations to buy fundraising chocolate that is located on a different island to the one I live on, and information about where to find the wedding photos of someone I've never heard of. 

I assume this is the kind of thing that always happens if you work for a large organisation and are not based at their main office. It doesn't make it any less annoying, however. Dear Wellington/Auckland, We exist. Sincerely, The Rest of The Country.

But of course, sometimes these mix-ups are a boon. Like the time an ex-boyfriend used a national list-serv to send his new girlfriend a link about a job that he thought she might like...along with a few embarrassing terms of endearment. I like to think of that one as an early Christmas present.

I have accidentally replied to all on one or two occasions but was lucky in each instance that there was nothing particularly revealing in the messages. I always try to make my emails cheerful and polite where I can, for safety's sake and because it's just a good idea in general. And nowadays I always double-check, before clicking send, that I'm not sending the message to hundreds of people.

Are there things about modern communications that drive you nuts like this too? What's the worst email goof you've ever witnessed (either your own or someone else's)?

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