Mark Twain once signed off a letter with the phrase “I apologise for writing a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”. A fine lesson in the art of brevity, and not wasting the reader’s time. As anyone who has been on Facebook can tell you, the people who write the longest posts usually show very little consideration for their audience, even those who actually read to the end.
We seem to be stuck between the incredibly brief, emoji-laden conversation of text messaging and the over-long self-aggrandising social media rant. People edit themselves when more information would be helpful, but seem perfectly happy to ramble on when one sentence would be more than enough.
Not so long ago our first admin task of the day was to read the post, carefully deciding which letters to respond to, and which to file behind the clock. I sometimes wish this was still the case. Not so much because I miss written communications, more because the post doesn’t arrive until lunchtime and it would be lovely to not have to deal with anything until then. Instead, from waking to sleeping we are bombarded with notifications; the tyranny of the little red numbers. Everything is the same until you open it, and I know if I see a little red number six on facebook there’s less than a one in six chance that any of those notifications will be something I actually need to be notified about.
It was very pleasant the other day, then, to pick up my phone and see a slew of WhatsApp notifications from an almost entirely silent friend on a pretty silent group.
“Are you on the highspeed back from London”
“Because if you’re not you have a lookalike”
Another friend chimed in:
“Is he wearing a Waistcoat and looking grumpy?”
The original friend carried on
“I’d tried to attract his attention, but he’s buried in his phone. I think he’s deliberately ignoring me.”
They continued in this vein, making some fairly personal and very uncalled for remarks about my appearance. I responded:
“Yes. it’s me”
“Come and say hello…but make it sexy”
It went quiet for a while.
Then I sent a picture of me sat at home with a glass of wine.
Luckily my doppelganger was so engrossed in his phone that he didn’t even register my friend’s sexy advances, and everyone chalked it up to experience
Maybe WhatsApp isn’t so bad after all, Mark Twain wouldn’t have been able to engineer such a potentially embarrassing situation on a steamboat. Not without months of planning and some well-timed telegrams. Although if he had, I bet he’d have written a very amusing, and delightfully short column about it. And there’s another way in which we’re different.