You're faced with an interesting dilemma when something free stops working. The customer, I suppose, is not always right when he's not paying. Thus, my current conundrum. For the past couple of weeks, my personal Hotmail account has been acting up, inexplicably. Messages that I send, primarily to other Hotmail users, are now delayed at least several hours, and in many cases, several days. E-mailing a friend, to see if she wants to meet for a drink after work, isn't quite as effective when your query finally lands in her inbox at 4:17 a.m. on a Sunday.
There is, as far as I can tell, no support line, and my two e-mail inquiries have drawn responses of "We know, we're working on it, thanks for using Hotmail!" (This is where that paying-customer leverage would be nice.) As the problem continues, I've discovered that several friends who also use Hotmail have experienced delays. So while all users may not be affected, I don't appear to be the only one born under a bad sign.
As I've learned to live with what I hope will be a temporary malady, I've found other means of communication -- work e-mail, text messaging, even the old-fashioned telephone. But the whole matter got me thinking about our addiction to all things electronic, and how the loss of something we lived just fine without a decade ago now seems catastrophic. I'm a young guy, but I'm old enough to remember life without cell phones, e-mail, and -- perish the thought -- blogs. They say we're living in an age of communication, and that's true, but the ability to zap pointless riffs every five seconds doesn't mean we're communicating any better. I'm a little afraid to admit, it's been nice picking up the phone more often lately and talking to a real live human being.
And that gets to my point. Although it's been cathartic, this little rant does, in fact, have a point. As a writer for Inc., I talk to successful CEOs or management gurus almost daily, and when the topic turns to communicating with a staff, one of the first things out of their mouths is "say it in person." Managers, like anyone else, have developed a nasty habit for the electronic communiqué, but nearly every expert says this is a bad way of doing business. Sure, it has a place -- an important one, at that -- but there really is no substitute for the personal touch. Contrary to what I've probably led you to believe, I try not to completely rely on e-mail when I'm in the office. I've always made a point getting up from my desk and walking the five feet it takes to talk to an editor or other co-worker face-to-face, because there is something very ridiculous about e-mailing a person sitting next to you. To be honest, the over-reliance on e-mail in the workplace, particularly in a small office, has disappointed me as my career continues. So I try to counter it in my own little way -- by actually getting out of my chair. And, as former Inc. 500 CEO Bill Gates continues to play mind games with me, I suggest you give it a shot.
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