AS I SEE IT
Sometimes I feel like that guy in Walter de la Mere’s spooky poem The Listeners.
“Is there anyone there?” said the traveller,
Knocking at the moonlit door.
No one answers.
A look in my sent email folder induced that kind of feeling recently. There, stretching back over weeks, were mails sent to a variety of people for different reasons which had never received a response. It’s a bit like another weird situation where you drop a pebble in a well expecting to hear a splash, instead there is an uncanny silence.
It doesn’t matter who the mail is for or what it’s about the result is the same. Nada. It could be a god-child, failing either to thank or confirm that a special gift has arrived. It could be a business contact about matters concerning a long and fruitful relationship, it could be an Editor not responding to ideas pitched for possible stories, despite my previous contributions, or a publisher (publisher of several of my books) about a submission. There is simply no response and that silence prompts feelings like those of the traveller so eloquently evoked in the poem as he stood “perplexed and still by a host of phantom listeners
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry.”
The prevalence of this no response phenomenon has to mean that something has shifted in attitudes to communication. It’s too widespread for the reason to be down to individual discourtesy. Don’t tell me that it’s because everyone is communicating by WhatsApp, which is great for brief communication and messaging and for groups yapping on about trivia but not for more detailed business stuff.
Can it be that people are drowning in a deluge of communication and are unable to stay on top of in boxes and respond by deleting virtually everything? Are they aiming for zero inbox, that phrase coined a couple of decades back by US lifestyle guru and enthusiast for getting things done, Merlin Mann.
It could hardly be that my plight is an extension of the cancel culture can it? I haven’t done anything like drop kicking my cat like Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma.
Seems to me that the no response problem has accelerated since the Covid pandemic. With a situation where early everyone was obliged to WFH (work from home) emails proliferated. Combine that with increased reliance on social media in place of real time contact it could be that people are suffering from cognitive overload.
Shunting mails into different folders (one of Mann’s solutions) only makes life more complicated, although it would result in a zero inbox. Ringing people isn’t an alternative when people have their cell phones switched off with “can’t take your call right now” messages on them. Ringing offices now that we are returning to them doesn’t work either.
The PA or receptionist’s response “ X is in a meeting” has been replaced by: “Let me give you her/his email.” Some chance of a reply. Actually, PAs and secretaries are a vanishing breed, but at least if you got one on the line you were speaking to a real person.
I have heard of folk who have several mobile phones and different email addressed so that they can deal with a hierarchy of contacts, people you want to hear from, people you might want to contact and contacts to be avoided.
Generally, SRP (speaking to a real person) is getting more and more difficult. You either have to communicate through a website or, if phoning, choose between pressing 1,2,3 or 4 and then wait for an answer that doesn’t come. That’s it! Maybe we are losing the ability to communicate.
Time to go back to messenger pigeons or ESP.