Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Great Communication (or: Great. Communication.)

Instant messaging has its place, but I'm a traditionalist. In today's terms, probably even a fundamentalist. My problem is that I insist on complete sentences in my business communications.

Typical IM exchange between me and a co-worker:
Me: Are you there?

Co-worker: y

Me: When you say "y," do you mean "yes" or "why?"

Co-worker: wut
Co-worker: y do u ask

Me: See? In that last sentence, "y" clearly meant "why," but without context your first sentence could have meant "yes I am here, thanks for asking," or "why do you need to know? Am I late for a meeting?"

Co-worker: ?

Me: Ah! So you DO know what a question mark is!

Co-worker: go away
I blame my mother. She has always been a strong typist and I decided at some point early in life that I wished to master the realm of QWERTY. I remember sitting at our small portable typewriter upstairs carefully transcribing my collection of Bill Cosby records. By the time I took typing as a class in junior high, I was already typing around 35 words per minute. I think in my prime I got that all the way up to around 70 or 75. Fast enough to prefer typing to all other forms of writing, but not quite fast enough to be an office admin.

Then Dad bought our first home computer. I was still on my mission at the time, but it didn't take me long to immerse myself in the world of microcomputing and begin learning a third language: BASIC. (Fourth, actually, if I count both K'iche' and Spanish as my second and third languages. Unfortunately, I've all but lost the Mayan dialects now.)

BASIC was fun because I had to master a whole new slate of keys to which I'd never paid attention on the old typewriters. Things like the colon, for which I could never find a use in normal correspondence, but which are found in nearly every line of BASIC code in any given application. Likewise the @ symbol. I can't even remember covering that silly thing in typing class, yet have been using it faithfully since 1980. Almost lost my skills when migrating from the old TRS-80 keyboards to today's standard PC keyboards, though. The Trash-80's character keys were in different positions, so I had to re-teach myself how to type them when I received my first XT Boat Anchor (640K RAM! Two — count 'em — TWO 5-1/4 inch floppies!)

Even then, however, I refused to give up on traditional English when writing memos, even as a lowly expediter working in a factory.

(For those who really know me, this is especially ironic. My family nickname is "the Great Communicator," because I pretty much never communicate with anyone who is not in the immediate room with me. I have kids living in Minnesota who are now convinced that I am about as real as Santa Claus because they only hear from me once a year, and about all I say is, quote, "Ho, ho, ho," as in, "You need money? Ho, ho, ho.")

(Secondary sidebar: Do you have any idea how ludicrously difficult it is to frame a formal letter in the old DOS version of Lotus 1-2-3? Yet that was what we tended to use because we weren't allowed an actual word processing application for a few years. Then we printed them out on our dot-matrix printers, some of which forced everything into ALL CAPS WHETHER YOU TYPED THEM THAT WAY OR NOT. The result was that our business communications, however well formed, tended to look like we'd printed them using $1.99 rubber stamp kits such as you'd buy at your local supermarket to get your kids out of your hair on rainy afternoons. Weren't those days fun?)

Now, of course, we have a whole new generation of college-educated kids hitting the workplace (assuming they won the mud-pit wrestling match at the jobs fair) with really fascinating degrees in business and communications. Except that they can't form a complete sentence to save their souls. These days it's not at all uncommon to receive requests like this one:

Someone said to me that you are the guru for UCA datas and I need a report but I need it last quarter and first quarter and you can have it for me by tomorrow? Early? Thx
You guessed it: another MBA from Pepperdine just hit the rolls. I'll probably be working for this person in another six months or so.

I may be poor, but I'm a terrific communicator.

Unless you're related to me.


Grandma Linda said...

I am with you, for the most part. I like using LOL and BTW...which I have learned from this younger generation.

Mark Hansen, LDS Rock Music said...

These kids today! I mean really! :-)

Actually, I used to work as a teacher's aide in an elementary school, and I was always amazed at the grammatical errors the teachers would make.