Muddling along with multi-platform malarkey

secret engineer

Our 24 hour, connected, multi-platform world is supposed to make it easier to communicate with one another. So why, asks our anonymous blogger, is it often so much harder?

The ability to communicate around the world currently stands at a level that could only have been dreamed of even a mere 20 years ago. There’s E-mails, Skyping, Facetiming and any number of other nouns that have been turned into verbs by the hip kids. However there is also a bit of a problem in that some people do not actually reply to messages sent.

I must admit that I’m a bit old fashioned with all this multi-platform communication malarkey and on the whole I just use e-mail and the telephone. I can hear some of you out there muttering “Just send a read receipt request” with regard to the e-mail but it has been my experience that these too have been ignored. The telephone is barely any better. As often as not the person you call isn’t available and when you leave a message they never fail in not getting back to you. As far as I’m aware the subjects I get in touch with people about are neither contentious nor trying, and of course a lot of them are related to matters of benefit to the recipient, yet there does seem to be a growing trend for just ignoring stuff.

I’m left wondering if this is a modern phenomenon and, if so then what’s at the heart of it? With the expectations raised by immediate contact from virtually any part of the world, including trains and cars, is the normal sequence of such situations now seen as redundant? Could it be there is more opportunity to hide from stuff – the modern equivalent of the bottom of the in-tray? I may well be out of step with the new norm but think this laissez-faire attitude to be unprofessional and mentally mark down those who practice it.

I personally also have a problem with the questions of etiquette regarding all this. First, there is no way of knowing if the message has reached the intended recipient and been ignored, intentionally deferred or merely that its been mislaid – either literally or metaphorically. A follow up could be tried but how many can you get away with before it potentially becomes irksome and you are undermining your own position? If it is the case of a supplier for a commonly available item then the solution is easy, you go and find another supplier. If it is more in the nature of establishing a collaborative relationship, or a single available source of supply then things become a bit trickier. As the established rules of non-immediate (and occasionally sporadic) communication are eroded the potential for doubt regarding intent, aligned with unnecessary conflict, increases.

The necessity of maintaining historic working practices in this way is, for me, reflected in the much vaunted idea of the paperless Design Office. Although we are not far off this I still print drawings out and I think it is because of the way the human brain processes information. There is a reason that A0 was generally the largest sheet size for drawings and A4 the smallest. If you select the size correctly then you can look over the whole drawing and immediately understand the information in each view and how they inter-relate, as well as looking at details where required. Not so important for understanding overall geometry in the world of 3D CAD but still significant when dimensioning complex objects.  Relying on the screen results in much zooming in, zooming out and scrolling; making reconciliation of the macro and micro difficult. When A0 screens are common, then there will truly be no need for paper.

New technologies give new opportunities and we should explore how we use them without clinging onto historic methodologies. However we should also understand how those methodologies are arrived at if we are not to lose old advantages whilst creating new ones.

The brain / eye interrelationship needs to always be central to the method of representing design information. Equally, clear and disciplined techniques need to be maintained in communication no matter what the medium.