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The trouble with e-mails

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I RECENTLY changed my internet provider. Don't ask. The three weeks without e-mail or easy web access set me pondering.

It was bliss. My life slowed down by about a third because I had more time, I felt under less pressure and any level of urgency became my own, not someone else's. Of course, the downside came when connection was restored and I faced the backlog. But actually, it wasn't so daunting. I discovered several things with positive outcomes.

Nothing had been so urgent that not replying for a few days had caused anything or anyone to die. OK, I didn't renew my car insurance, but the reminder was a month ahead so there was still time. Sure, I missed an unmissable webinar on kidney disease, but there will be plenty others. I made the discovery that four of my friends each regularly send me the same internet ‘funnies’ in a very predictable cycle so that from now on I need only look at one and can trash the other three without opening them. I unsubscribed from a load of circular junk that I'd not appreciated was coming around so frequently. I didn't reconnect my smartphone.

I turned my pondering to the internal e-mails that used to dominate at a former practice. A great way of disseminating useful information quickly to the right person. Provided, of course, that the recipient actually opened them! There was no way of knowing. Two colleagues simply never read their e-mails except as an afterthought on a Friday evening. It always seemed silly to me to be e-mailing someone working in the same, relatively small building, and I preferred to deliver my information face to face. But then I realised a lot of people use their e-mail messages as an aide memoir and information stuck in their in-tray was much more likely to be acted on than information imparted in a corridor or over a bitch spay.

The real downside of internal e-mails is the problems caused by those sent from an absent manager. The perceived offensiveness of such e-mails grows proportionally to the length of time the manager is physically absent from the workplace. Their grasp of day-to-day reality slips, awareness of personal challenges or needs fades and, let's face it, there is no tone of voice, emotion, emphasis or empathy to be expressed in a few hard lines of text. Interpretation becomes highly coloured by whatever mood the recipient might be in at the moment of reading.

For me, a most useful way of using the concept of e-mail is in giving instruction to owners of post-surgical or invalided dogs. ‘That's right, Mr Brown, take him on the lead just long enough to do his ‘wee-mails’ each time.'

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