I hate the phone. Let me just put that right out there. Oh sure, I call my sisters and girlfriends to chat, usually when I'm driving or cruising the grocery store aisles. I like a good old catch-up convo as much as the next gal. But when expediency is called for, the phone can suck time like a black hole.
Set aside my skepticism at clutching a mobile device to our brains or the loony appearance of those blinking Vulcan blue earpieces. What I hate about the phone when conducting business is the socially required chitchat, the lubrication, the "how are the kids" banter that doesn't allow for cutting to the chase. Wasn't this precisely why Al Gore created the Internet -- so we could all be more efficient?
But lately it seems that even email is failing me. I'm drowning in the sheer volume, suffocating in the volleys. Some conversations and decisions seem to require so many back and forths, so much cc-ing and reply-all-ing, that my knickers are twisted. We are a society of over- communicators. We text while we paint our toenails, we tweet while we're getting frisky. We feel a sense of rising panic if we haven't responded to someone in 24 hours.
Good old-fashioned email can plunge you into hot water, if you're not careful. The written word lacks tone or inflection; there's no indication that you are joshing (other than that silly smiley face symbol). Even a well-intentioned breezy missive can sound like you are dead serious, and a serious email can read as if a razor is poised at your wrist.
Oops. It seems I've just offended someone with my sloppily dashed email. But OMG, WTF? I'd used LOL, added a smiley face and plenty of exclamation marks to lighten it all up. Sigh. More time spent on clarification, apologies and back-pedaling. Now a phone call to hear our voices, palpate the hurt, define the intentions and un-do the damage. And finally, are we good? We're good. Ok. Thumbs up. We like each other on Facebook again.
Suddenly I'm nostalgic for my old phone with the black cord, the one I pulled into my childhood bedroom to whisper about cute boys. A phone call back then had weight, carried a certain importance. It was almost the equivalent of today's handwritten letter, as quaint as composing your Santa list from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.
One of my favorite Nora Ephron essays is "The Six Stages of E-Mail." In the first stage she describes her excitement and infatuation at the new method of communication. This gives way to her confusion over excessive spam for retail and personal growth opportunities like penis enlargement. Note -- my husband once changed his email address for this reason and let's not go into the understandable insecurities this can breed when you're a male recipient. In the next stage, Ephron is overwhelmed by her email and finally the last section is simply entitled "Call Me."
Clicking on my email icon is like powering up a ball machine on a tennis court. My returns are faster and the replies now shorter. Anyone who emails me has to live with the fact that I don't take the time to spell check. It's my tiny stab at insurrection, a minimal but important time-saving device. To me, email is the written equivalent of a verbal response. Of course there are exceptions, but you know you're a friend if you have to read my messages fone- et-i- call-ee.
Sadly, from the looks of my inbox, email is here to stay. And after years of attempting to be a nice, polite girl, dutifully answering even unsolicited emails, I'm getting ruthless. I'm teaching myself to resist UFR (unnecessary further response) and to press delete when I see the FNOD's (Forward to 10 friends Now -- Or Die a mysterious death within 24 hours). I no longer send replies that say "great," "OK," "done," "thank you" or "really?" It's liberating. And frankly, do these people even remember they had the last word? Did they care? And don't get me started on RAA (reply-all abuse). Emailing someone is like accessing porn on the Internet. Even a child can do it.
I'm not sure exactly how I'll solve this. It's unrealistic to assume I can throw my devices out the car window and walk away from the burning wreckage. But I'm working on a healthier balance.
But the next time we're trying to set up a lunch date and it's taking seven replies, don't be surprised if you hear the phone ring. That will be me -- and please don't be offended if I fail to enquire about your parent's health.
Follow Lee Woodruff at www.leewoodruff.com
On Instagram (iPhone and Android, free), users take photos from their daily lives and have the option to apply a variety of filters to enhance or touch-up their images. Users then have the ability to share their images on various social network sites as well as Instagram's own social network. Users also have the ability to "like" other users' photos and share with their own friends. BEST FOR: The application is best for those wanting to share the daily images of their lives. As Instagram has grown in popularity, many users can share their photos on multiple social networks. It's a great way to share your latest craft project or vacation adventures with your family and friends. TIPS & TRICKS: Photos from Instagram don't have to stay in the online realm. Users now have the ability to easily turn their filtered photos into actual photos on canvas using CanvasPop or even into desk calendars with the app Calendargram (iPhone, free), which would make great gifts for all of your loved ones.
Google+ is a social networking site that encompasses a variety of features, including Google Hangouts, an online spot that facilitates group chat and the "+1 button" that allows users to show your personal endorsement of an informative article or an interesting item. Google+ allows you to categorize your contacts into a variety of groups called circles. With circles, you can choose what groups can see what you post and what you share. If you want to talk about a family get-together, you can share it with your friends and family circle, but not your professional colleagues. BEST FOR: Google+ is ideal for those who want to share content-rich information. It has features for sharing personal documents and photos, articles and can connect users via text chat and video chat. The social media network also has over 40 games where you can connect with friends and share your scores with your different circles. TIPS & TRICKS: Google Docs has recently been integrated into Hangouts, the video chat feature of Google+. Now users can pull up their documents while using the video chat feature and you can even share your screen to make for a productive and basically face-to-face conference.
Pinterest is a virtual pin board where users can "pin" images on a variety of topics, such as home décor, recipes, and apparel. Pinterest users then create boards to house the images, so users may have one specific to anniversary planning, birthday parties, favorite recipes or quotes, for example. The cyber-version of "vision-boards," users have the opportunity to browse and share images. BEST FOR: If you're constantly surfing the web to collect ideas, it can be difficult to remember every site you visited or how to keep up with all of your bookmarks. With Pinterest, the "pinning" can be added to your internet browser easily and you can start collecting all of your favorite images. TIPS & TRICKS: Need some quick gift ideas for your grandchild's first birthday party or your son's promotion and not sure what you're looking for? Pinterest has segmented categories for price ranges in their gift section and you can quickly click on the image to take you to the product information and you can order right from your mobile device or computer.
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LinkedIn is a social networking tool focused on professional networking and building business relationships. The tool can be used to network and has informational tabs that compile your personal industry's top news for the day for quick reference. BEST FOR: LinkedIn can be used to connect professionally and also as a supplement to the traditional resume and business card. You have the ability to expand and personalize your descriptions and skills that you sometimes leave off in hard copies. You even have the option of adding a video onto your LinkedIn profile to give you an extra boost in impressions. TIPS & TRICKS: Frequently check your LinkedIn to see what your contacts and colleagues are up to. It's a great way to stay connected professionally.
Watch who you "Friend" and "Follow." On many social media sites, people can request to follow or friend you. If you're not comfortable with strangers having access to your social media information, depending on the social media tool, you could have the option to allow them access to pre-approved sections of your profile. Privatize your profile. Geek Squad can show you how to take advantage of the privacy settings offered by social media sites. By marking your page as private, people have to request you as a friend or ask for your approval in order to "follow" you on Twitter or view your complete Facebook profile. Social media websites generally undergo changes a few times every year, and most of those facelifts affect privacy settings in some way - though users may not be directly alerted of those specific changes. If you notice changes on social-networking site homepages, it's a good idea to revisit your privacy settings, perform a quick internet search to learn more or ask a Geek Squad Agent to give you the scoop.
Beware of your posts! Always remember that any content you post on the internet will be there forever, for anyone to read, store and republish. Remember that this information is stored somewhere, likely in multiple places. Avoid sharing personal information. License plate numbers, house numbers or other addresses as well as specific names of schools, workplaces or towns should be not shared on the internet. Information can be used like pieces in a puzzle to paint a bigger picture of you. Always take a second look. Just because the screen says your friend John has sent you information doesn't mean John is actually the person who did. Scams often run rampant on social media sites, so beware of any unusual messages. For example, hackers disguise messages to your contacts claiming to need money after being robbed or having lost money in a foreign country. Trust your gut. If it doesn't "seem right" it probably isn't. Things free or too good to be true are just that. Social networking sites have been a breeding ground for fake antivirus software ads, so avoid any type of free antivirus offers.
Follow Lee Woodruff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeeMWoodruff