Thinking Out Loud

No Answer

Getting a phone call used to be a pretty big deal—and if it was long distance, that was a really big deal. On a long distance call in the 50s and 60s, you found out what you needed to know in a hurry and got off the phone. It was expensive. Local calling was inexpensive but still not something used for idle chit chat, although increasingly that did become the case.

If you got a call or a letter or the rare telegram, you were sure to reply. To do otherwise, would be rude. Even with the advent of answering machines, a message required a response at your earliest convenience. These were the unspoken rules of the communication highway.

Today it is different. A call or email does not necessarily require a response, nor does a message on your Facebook wall. So how do you know when to reply or when not to reply? Young people seem comfortable with whatever the unspoken protocol is. Older people (like me) are not sure; we reply to everything. Younger folks think we’re quaint.

To answer or not: I find it confusing. If you don’t get a response, how do you know if your message was received? Well, if it’s an email, you can request a receipt, which apparently even in business isn’t done often. I’ve never seen anyone request it with a personal email and understand it’s considered aggressive or obsessive. Since I don’t want to be perceived as either, I don’t request one.

The volume of calls, emails, and text messages many people receive is likely a contributing factor. Some receive hundreds daily—I’ve heard of thousands but find it difficult to believe. It’s a little like conceptualizing two trillion dollars.

I suspect most people operate with a triage mentality: Is it a message that absolutely requires a response? How important is it that I respond before next week? What will the impact be if I do not acknowledge receipt of the message? The decision made in an intuitive nanosecond.

In the business world these days it’s increasingly rare for someone to have support staff regardless of how high or low they are on the corporate ladder. The laptop and cell phone provide personal secretarial services, so there is no buffer or organizer or helper to return calls or type notes and letters. It’s all on the shoulders of the individual, which causes enormous stress in the workplace. Workers spend longer hours outside the traditional workday just to keep up.

Kids are enormously distracted by the volume of text messages, emails and other contact possibilities—checking and rechecking to see if there is any new message. Along with video games and television, communication devices provide more avenues for addictions . . . or at best just constant distractions.

I’m left being confused about what it means when someone doesn’t reply to a message I’ve sent. How soon do I follow-up? Do I follow up at all?  Maybe I should just chill and see what happens. When it comes to communication, however, because it’s my “thing,” I naturally take it seriously. So, I’ll just keep wondering and working hard to respond to every communication that comes my way—except junk mail, of course.

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