Write me a letter

by DAVE WILSON, EDITOR, DESIGN ENGINEERING

The other day, I stumbled upon a TV programme called `The 1900 House’. In this house, a modern family has been placed to live for several weeks in order to effectively recreate life as it existed in the earlier part of this century. Their reactions to the effect of the move will be recorded on small cameras hidden in the rooms of the house.

Even in the first programme in what looks like a very interesting series, it became obvious that things moved a lot slower all those years ago. Because they have no mobile telephone or e-mail, the only means of communication is the written word: paper and ink. So they must sit down and think about what they want to write before they start spouting into the phone or pounding away at a set of keys.

How different from today. Despite the fact that the telephone and e-mail and have undoubtedly improved our lives by allowing us to communicate quickly with colleagues when we need to, how many of us actually think before we start to speak or write anything.

A designer I know phoned a supplier for some parts. He was assured that they could supply them. The next day, the supplier phoned back: no, they couldn’t meet the designer’s needs. They had checked the stores. This of course, caused the designer no end of misery, frantically phoning more suppliers because he was up against the wall. Is it all now excusable because we can communicate so quickly?

E-mail has made it worse. Now we can make a mistake at nine, spot the correct solution at ten, and then hope that someone else can correct our mistake at eleven. Or we can ask our associates to perform a task, and after they have done so, we ignore their e-mail response, just to generate another plethora of e-mails during the following few days.

How many of us ever bother to think before we start to write an e-mail? Do you? It’s got so bad that some people don’t even bother writing their own original material. They keep in touch by mass mailing e-mailing lists of silly jokes.

I’m not advocating abandoning these new tools, but we must be sure that we use them more sensibly, not causing chaos with our colleagues simply because we have the technology to do so. Perhaps if we all wrote down what we planned to say in pen and ink before we hit the speed-dialer and the keyboard, the world would move along a little faster. Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.