I remember around 1992 when Roane State announced the school was adopting a new technology tool to make communicating with other staff members easier and more convenient. This new tool was email. Fortunately for me, I had a terrific boss, Judy Tyl, who was far more patient with me than I deserved. Any way….I complained to her about how email would make things so much more impersonal. Growing up in a small community, (one caution light and one school with grades 1-12 on the same campus) I was a people kind of person. I wanted to be able to look people in the eye when having a discussion with them or at least hear the tone in their voice over the phone. Back then I had no idea what email would create and what a technology prisoner I would become.
As email became more popular, I as everyone, succumbed to its domination in my life. I now could hire a full-time person to monitor my emails alone. Statista reports that 269 billion emails were sent in 2017, and that number will increase to over 281 billion this year. What also amazes me is everyone’s reliance on the absolute capability and accuracy of email delivery. Sending or receiving emails certainly makes doing business easier, but it also creates pressure to respond immediately. Email makes it easier for clients to want things, RIGHT NOW! Why should you have to wait when I can instantly email the information to you. It should not matter that I have talked to five clients before I received your email who also want their reply “RIGHT NOW!” In this instance technology may have made it easier to complete a task, but the demand for immediate action creates tremendous stress. My company feels this stress every day.
Patience is a Virtue
As I sat on hold for 35 minutes with my accounting software support team, I questioned how many of my clients would sit on hold for us this long. The answer was simple, NONE! When huge companies dominate a market, we often find ourselves accepting an inferior level of customer service. However, when dealing with a small business owner in our local market, we expect immediate service too. Believe me, I am guilty as well. Why can I not give my local businesses the same benefit I give a huge corporation? After all, this small business is supporting local projects in my community.
I regularly experience the, “you didn’t respond to my email” complaint. Email is not infallible. Technical errors occur from time to time. Mail queues clog, internet services drop out , and sometimes email is not delivered or not delivered timely. If you receive a large number of emails every day, it is easy to miss one in the onslaught. I always resend an email if I don’t get a response in an appropriate amount of time because I know that email is not perfect.
My conclusion is that email has not made my life easier but much more stressful because the demand to perform at an unreasonable pace is high, and it continues to grow. We all know that email is one of the older technological advances, but it is still imperative for business.
Recently, I was meeting with a friend of who has kids in their 30s. She tried to call them, but they didn’t answer. As she hung up her phone, she said, “voicemail technology is so 80s or 90s.” I laughed to myself as she continued with, “my kids hate voicemail.” What makes them hate voicemail? Does listening to a voicemail take too much time? Is it too difficult to understand because of a bad connection? I’m equally guilty. If someone leaves me a voicemail, I rarely listen to it. I simply call them back. Are we so stressed for time that we cannot listen to a voicemail? Think about what we are missing. How about hearing the sweetness of a loved one’s voice or hearing the emotion in a voicemail? You don’t get that from a text or an email.
Again, I ask has email and texting made our lives easier? Fast Company reports that 50% of email responses are sent within two minutes. I recently read in another article that if you do not respond to a text message within 90 seconds, the sender is insulted. How is that for impatience?
How about getting away from technology? Does it happen? Do you take technology breaks? I know I don’t disconnect often enough. While traveling last weekend for work, I sat at the bar in the airport lounge for lunch. As I looked around, I counted ten people sitting at the bar. Twenty years ago, I would have witnessed strangers saying kind words or getting to know the person next to them. Today, I saw ten people sitting at the bar, and six of them were on their phones. I sometimes find it sad that mobile phones have become a tool that keeps us from exchanging ideas with others in face-to-face conversations. Many times in social situations people hide behind their phones which then makes for “unsocial” situations. Our obsession with mobile technologies creates many missed opportunities in my humble opinion. On the same trip while waiting for a table at a restaurant, I met a young man, and we struck up a conversation. I found it interesting that he was the owner of the restaurant next door and had started making vodka in Texas. If I’d been on my phone, I would have missed the information.
Another consideration as a small business owner, is 24-hour-a-day accessibility. Business owners know that if we are not accessible, potential clients will simply call the next person listed on the internet (especially for insurance). While on this trip, I told someone I could work from anywhere (which is a great perk). They saw it in a different perspective and said, “you just have a longer leash!” That statement hit me right between the eyes. Now, I find myself trying to get off the leash instead of getting a longer one! This pressure to stay attached to our phone is out of control.
Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the technological advances that enable us to complete tasks in the blink of an eye and keep us easily connected. And I certainly need to be available for my clients when they need assistance. But I must say, I miss sitting on the porch swing on a cool evening sharing great conversation with family and friends without any digital interference!