Monday, November 28, 2005

From the WSJ: In Defense of Management by Email

It's a headline I thought I'd never write, because it's a pet peeve. And even if Jason Fry's Real Time column (sorry it's subscription only) in today's Journal points out that emailing someone two feet away does have its purpose in life, I still feel that we do it all too often. We need to pick up the phone or step out of our Dwight-style cubicles (ask any fan of The Office) more often. There's no substitute for human-to-human chat.

Fry notes:

There are a host of obvious reasons people who sit close together may choose to communicate electronically: They're too busy to get up (or at least think they are); they're too lazy to get up; one or the other is on the phone; they have something sensitive to discuss but don't want to attract attention by disappearing together; or they're being gossipy, snarky or seditious.

Fry cites email exchanges on non-controversial decisions that require input from multiple parties as instances where email can be useful, as the parties involved can be multi-tasking while inching towards consensus. I'll give him that one, but I cannot help but feel that only exacerbates this troubling state of continuous partial attention that we live in. Nathan Torkington (O'Reilly editor and Perl scholar) writes:

With continuous partial attention we keep the top level item in focus and scan the periphery in case something more important emerges. Continuous partial attention is motivated by a desire not to miss opportunities. We want to ensure our place as a live node on the network, we feel alive when we're connected. To be busy and to be connected is to be alive.

So here's to a fresh resolution to pick up the phone more often and give the person at the other end my full attention (at least until an IM starts flashing...)


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