Saturday, October 21, 2017

Don't E Me

As was typical these days, I was putting together an entire project across the country without ever  speaking to a single person. Everything was being done online using the full range of electronic options. The initial approaches to suppliers was via email, with links to web sites to see and show relevant examples of workmanship, followed by texts to follow-up on little details and outstanding questions. I guess I really shouldn't have been surprised if the company in LA turned out to be a robot or a Russian hacker. After all, as Peter Steiner's prophetic New Yorker cartoon pointed out in 1993, on the internet no one knows you're a dog.

That's how we do things these days. It's not that we can't talk to people, but rather that we choose not to. Sure, sometimes a conversation is more expeditious and cuts out a bunch of back and forth. But that also leads many times to comments such as "You know, let me think about it and get back to you." As a practical matter, often it's easier to conduct communications in an asynchronous style. It lets you read and respond when you're ready, able to write and edit as you see fit and not be put on the spot with a response. Shooting from the lip is a thing of the past, unless you live in the White House.

So if this is how we roll, why make any distinction between methods? The interaction is the same, agnostic as to channel. If it's the first time I call you on the phone, or meet you at a party, or connect with you via an email, the logical thing to say is some variation of "Nice to meet you." The method doesn't change the sentiment, nor does it require any explanation. I don't say "Nice to hear that you can talk" or "A pleasure to see you in the flesh." And yet one individual who was referred to me started off with "Nice to e-meet you." 

E-meet: is that to differentiate it from "p-meet" as in by phone or "r-meet" as in real life? I mean, we've been using email for how long? Depending on when you first plunked that AOL disc in your computer, you've heard some variation of "You've Got Mail!" for over 30 years. It's woven into our everyday life, hardly something worth calling attention to. It's not like when you first got a mobile phone and started off every call with "You're not gonna believe this, but I'm calling you from the grocery store!" If it comes by email, is really necessary to say we're e-meeting? That's roughly analogous to saying "I'm car-driving over to meet you." 

That's not to say that we don't make distinctions as to the form and format. In Facebook, the operative verb is that you "friend" someone, even if you are not really friendly. And when texting a person, it's likely to be reduced beyond words to a scrunchy face emoticon, wherein you have to decipher the message as if you're in a Dan Brown novel and you're scanning a Pharaoh's tomb. But I've never F-met someone on Facebook, nor T-met them on text. 

The point is that even an extra letter detracts from the story line of what you are trying to say. Lincoln famously said that he thought no one would remember his remarks at Gettysburg. Yet his 272 word address has been enshrined as one of the most amazing pieces of rhetoric in history. He trimmed the extra words and qualifiers to be just the essence, a technique described in the TV show Dragnet years later as "just the facts, ma'am." Kurt Vonnegut's fifth rule of writing was to "start as close to the end as possible." And it was Shakespeare who wrote in Hamlet that "since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief." The point is to cut the extra stuff you don't need, and leave the stuff you do. My own personal goal is in the form of an admonition I clipped from a long ago ad for USA today, one which sums up what I try and do whenever I put fingers to keys: "Not the most words, just the right ones."


Marc Wollin of Bedford believes editing is at least as important as writing. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.