Is e-mailing more like “writing” or more like “talking”?

The Pew Internet in American Life Project released a fascinating report last month on "Teens, Technology & Writing" that concluded, "Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their e-mails, instant and text messages as writing." As a writing instructor, I wonder about the implications of this — especially whether I'm fighting an uphill battle trying to get students to hold e-mail messages to the same standard as formal writing.

My argument for formal e-mails is that students need to learn to express themselves in many modes, in order to meet the expectations of various audiences. You don't communicate with your friends in the same mode that you use with your family members or bosses or teachers. Writing to people such as the latter — who are in a position to evaluate you (e.g. fire you, give you a bad grade, deny you an interview) — in an informal mode seems immature and irresponsible.

Sure, sometimes e-mails are sent from handheld devices and feel more
like a text message than a letter. And instant messaging happens in the same
place as e-mailing (say, in Gmail) so I can see how people could
equivocate the two. But it seems better that students err on the side
of being too formal than being too informal, especially with people
upon whom they're trying to make a professional impression.

Continue reading “Is e-mailing more like “writing” or more like “talking”?”

Texting costs $749 per megabyte, and other techno-skeptic holiday tales from my family

SMS XOXO coffee mug

My family has enjoyed chiming in on the Slow Media critique. For example, my aunt gave me this amusing coffee mug that serves as reminder of how much she loves texting.


This year's Christmas dinner provided a rich opportunity to talk Slow Media with my relatives. My dad, who's 85, just "got on e-mail" (again). Or so he claims… He has called me on the telephone to confirm receiving my e-mail messages but I have not actually received an e-mail from him yet. This is maybe the third time in a dozen years that he's set up an e-mail account, never used it, then canceled it. He retired (from the phone company) 20 years ago, before PCs were ubiquitous, so he's never really taken to the gooey interfaces, yet alone the series of tubes.

My brother, who at age 35 is a tech-savvy engineer, just "got on Facebook" a couple of months ago… but only because colleagues bribed or blackmailed him into it with some sort of Secret Santa shenanigans. He's already become disenchanted with the superficiality of online social networking and threatening to quit. It bothers him that on Facebook some "friends" do not treat him like, you know, friends. He says he plans to keep in touch with important people
in his life "in more meaningful ways."

Then my cousin, who's also 35 and works in finance, brought up the topic of exploitative text pricing. Consumer Reports has been running a campaign against the rising cost of text messages. Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, says that cellphone companies keep raising per-text costs for customers without SMS plans, even though the actual cost to the companies of sending these short messages is negligible.

He sent me links to some Popular Mechanics articles that explain how texting now costs $749 per megabyte–more than four times what NASA pays to transmit data from the Hubble telescope back to Earth. The magazine also gives these useful tips for e-mailing text messages from your smartphone to obviate the extra charges. Of course, we could just give in and sign up for unlimited monthly packages. But, should we have to?

Now I'm thinking that technology resistance might run in my family.

A belated Christmas gift to me (and you)

Santa

It's always heartening for a teacher when students start applying class lessons to their lives — even after the semester is over. One of my fall students just sent me a message including this cartoon (above). I'm thrilled that even though grades and extra-credit points are no longer at stake, she still looks out for indicators of the changing role of communication technology in our culture. That's a great gift.

From my contrarian, technoskeptical, alienated perspective

Mycellphone

Six years and counting! My trusty cellphone-slash-pet might be old and doesn't have a text plan — but it still holds a full charge and has never been lost, stolen or broken.


Letters, postcards, landlines… I've been feeling nostalgic for the media of my youth — or at least of my formative years, circa late 1980s or early 1990s. Doesn't feel that long ago, but the spectrum of communication technologies has expanded in the intervening couple of decades. When I want to get in touch with a friend, I can vacillate for hours now deciding whether I should call them or text them or g-chat them or e-mail them, etc. What's the proper medium for the information I want to convey, or for the type of interaction I want to have? 

If they're at work, then I don't want to call and disturb them; I should probably text. But the details are too complicated, so I could always e-mail or g-chat. But maybe they're not near a computer, or by the time they reply, I might be away from mine. I want to have a live two-way convo anyway, because there's information to exchange or decisions to make, so if they don't answer the phone, I'll just leave a voice-mail. But, they probably wouldn't hear the phone message anyway; they're likely to just call back without listening, right? Or they'll just reply to my call with a text and I'll have to call them again or text them back: "Um, call me, geez!" Maybe I'll forgo the message and just let them see my number on their recent call list. But maybe they're in the subway, and my incoming call won't register; then I'll think they're not responding when really they didn't know I phoned. Or maybe…

Yes, these are the thoughts that run through my head every time I consider contacting a friend. Sometimes I wind up just not getting in touch with the friend at all due to paralysis induced by too many media choices. This state of being results in part from my disenchantment with digital media. It also contributes to my disenchantment, I know 

But, dear friends, even if I do call and you do answer the phone, chances are good that one of us will lose our signal, or our connection will be bad so we can't understand each other and I'll get frustrated repeating "What was that? I didn't hear you," or
you'll be in the middle of something so you'll have to call me back, or one of us will be driving and doesn't want to get a ticket or cause an accident, or I'm at a store/doctor's office/restaurant and other people are glaring at me for rambling on the cellphone in public. It's easier just not to call. Though digital media are supposed to be making us more connected, somehow I feel the opposite. 

Also, it might help to know that this is my phone (above). Not conducive to speedy texting, folks.