The other day, I decided to clean out my inbox. There were hundreds of emails from friends and fans. I’d let some of them stack up since late January.
This does not make me proud.
As I plowed through each one — writing a response, filing it in a folder for future reference, or deleting it — I began to think about this new communications world in which we live.
Suddenly, just about everyone I want to reach is accessible, instantaneously. So am I.
When I was in grad school, I fell in love with Madeleine L’Engle’s storytelling. One long weekend, I read every single book of hers I could find at the University of Michigan Library. At three in the morning, I closed the final page of the last book and wrote her a thank-you note. It took a few days to find her publisher’s address, to buy the stamp, address the envelope (yes, I procrastinated then, too) and to mail my fan gushing. She replied nine months later. Her letter was a treasured possession for years until it finally disintegrated from so many enraptured readings.
Flash forward to today. We have blogs, emails, voicemails, instant text messaging, websites — so many ways to communicate. I wonder about the effect of all this extraordinary access.
Has easy communication cheapened our interactions? Does it affect sales? Does it affect attendance at booksignings? Has it raised expectations while lowering value?
Somehow, I think the speed with which we can communicate now does, indeed, lessen the value of our interactions.
I’m saying this as a person who adores, and is grateful, for all the people she’s met via the Internet. I relish the fan mail I receive and know it would be much less if it were only snailmailed on paper.
But there’s something important about expending effort, too. Fans take the time to write and I’m honored that they’ve done so. But, how valuable is my response back? What if I take nine months to send the note? Will a reader fold and unfold a letter from me she’s printed herself and that is topped with all the gobbledeegook from my ISP?
I don’t have answers here, only observations and a sneaking feeling that we’re losing an element of true, personal interaction with this split-second, electronic back-and-forth.
Oh, hell, I don’t know. I feel so torn, so oddly ungrateful, even thinking about it.
Without the Internet, far fewer readers would have ever heard of me. Without my responses to readers, albeit tardy, I wouldn’t have half the number of incredible and dedicated "fans." I wouldn’t stay in touch with out-of-state family either.
Today, hundreds of Bouchercon attendees are home or are winding their way in that direction. How will they keep up with old friends and new contacts?
I’ll admit that now my communication is almost entirely through email, this blog and the phone. A handwritten letter is precious because it takes so much more time and effort (heck, I don’t write with pen and ink nearly as quickly as I can type).
Each communication outward brings another bevy of communications back. Each of those requires a response. Again, I’m not complaining — just marveling and trying to gain perspective.
Part of my problem is that I can’t send a canned note. So, I get backed up in my responses. For me, without the personal touch, the letter or email or blog or website isn’t worth the tap-tapping on keyboard or cell phone.
I think that’s why I hate spam, computer-recorded phone calls and printed marketing materials so much. They require my time to analyze relevance and to strip of personal info before trashing. They clog my inbox, phone machine and mailbox without having a spot to do with me.
I suspect most of you feel the same way.
And, so, today, I’m going through the last 156 emails in my inbox. The people who wrote them deserve a sincere response.
There will be more tomorrow.
I feel guilty that I can’t stay "on top" of my communications, but — here’s the kicker — still yearn for more.
If no one responds to this post, I’ll feel sad, neglected . . .
And I think that’s awfully odd, too.