Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pen and Ink

Wither Pen and Ink?

Ever had a crackberry? ... er, uh ... a Blackberry?
Nice phone!

Everyone is different.  Everyone has a unique way of communicating.  And everyone has a list of preferred forms of communication. (And most people, that I run into, seem unaware of their own "list".)

About the Blackberry: They call it "crackberry" because executives got so addicted. But we're all addicts now thanks to TXTing. Well, maybe not all of us. Do you TXT or do you call? Do you IM or send email? Our are you the neighborhood luddite insisting on paper mail?

This is about email.  I prefer it to pen and ink.  I felt guilty for leaving some friends and family behind (paper and pen luddites), but even my grandmother got hip to AOL.  And now I seem to be a stick-in-the-mud of sorts.  That bothers me.

No Mo Email

In early 2011, Thierry Breton announced his move to dispense with email at Atos Origin (big outsourcing firm headquartered in France).  Many were skeptical.  I found the move offensive because an IT leader should know the terrain better.  His motive is right: we need to stem the tide of information overload.  But he's taking the easy out by changing to the "social networking" fast lane.  Mr. Breton is ignoring the fact that people interact using many modes.

Most of us are blessed with the capacity to use a half dozen or more types of communication.  We start with face-to-face, which includes verbal and non-verbal.  But we've had written language for millennia.  And there have been special forms of distance signalling (smoke and light) almost as long.  Then in the 19th century, we got telegraph and then telephone.  The 20th century brought us radio and then television.  And now we have the internet, which has subsumed even the phone and a good portion of radio and TV.

Now ... I am a touch typist.  (And thus far I have not suffered from CTS or RSI, thank the Lord.)  So for me, even a GUI is distasteful.  I would just as soon  t-y-p-e  a command as click an icon.  It's faster. Really. And that's just when instructing the machine. 

Pen and ink are fine, but I do better with a keyboard.  Mistakes are easier to correct.  Then there's that thing called "touch typing" ... I can type much faster than I can write (with pen).  But Mom would rather get a hand-written note, or at least a phone call.  (Let's not even discuss TXTing or IM.)  So we come full circle on communication forms.  Though I don't believe it's the hand-written part as much as the paper part that appeals to Mom.

Dad, bless his heart, has worked really hard to enter my world.  He got internet email on a university mainframe because he knew I did email. (That was in the days before AOL did internet.) But Dad cannot type, so I know it is difficult, and I don't push the matter.

But for me, it was never about getting rid of paper.  I remain indifferent to the "paperless office".  (And I find myself printing a lot of things sent via email.  Paper is easier to read.)

What's Old is New - What's New is Old

We had this nice truce between the old and the new.  And then came the newer.

As I was settling in to a high ground in the battle against spam, there came a replacement for email: Facebook messaging.  Seems that if I want to drop a note to certain people (eg: anyone under Breton's reign), it has to be a Facebook message instead of email.

The benefits of FB messaging are obvious.  But there are problems too.  The problems are less obvious.  The benefits are mostly on the convenience side, and people naturally trend toward convenience. (Some to their own demise.)

Even in the technical arguments, I can't help notice the ironic similarity, where my generation abandoned paper mail, a new generation abandons electronic mail.  My kids prefer Facebook.

As I write, I realize that the irony is not iron-clad and the similarity is only superficial. 

Google Gets It

Time and again I've said: I use Google, but I don't trust them.  The reason they continue to suck me in is that they "get it" on some important technical points.  Google will continue to grow as long as Google uses standardized services.  With email, for example, you can get a free mailbox from Google and there's a spiffy web interface.  But they also let you connect using other clients.  GMail speaks IMAP and SMTP.  These are standards.  Google lets you access their services with the standard tools/protocols at no penalty.

Curiously, FB IM can speak "XMPP", so you can chat with Facebook friends using other tools than just the web interface.  Why do they not support this for mail type messages?

Electronic mail is older than the internet.  Electronic mail is bigger than the internet.  (It gets relayed to/from systems that are not on the internet.)  What's needed is a relay from electronic mail to paper mail and then "correspondence" becomes all inclusive.


There is no "conclusion" as long as people struggle with the various means of communcating.  But here are some of those means ...

  • face to face
  • written (letter, dictation, notes passed during class)
  • electronic mail (can be printed; can be relayed, except for Facebook)
  • IM (including FB chat)
  • phone (ie: not a computer program)
  • online voice (eg: Skype, but there are others)
  • and social media

I think I'll write Mom a letter.

-- R; <><