Email, instant messaging and the whirligig of time

17th September 2018 | Daily Life, Musings, Teaching | 1 comment

I was complaining last week to a fellow musician about the difficulty of getting students to reply to emails. ‘You’d think they would reply to email precisely because it’s so easy to click on ‘reply’ and write a few words’, I said.

‘I have exactly the same problem’, he said. ‘I think it’s because a lot of them see email as old-fashioned. I don’t know why, but it seems to require a certain style of writing. You know how most people begin an email with ‘Dear X’, and then they write in proper sentences and paragraphs, with spaces in between, and finish with ‘best wishes’ and all that. Students can’t be bothered with it.’

‘Old-fashioned???’ I squeaked. ‘I feel I’ve only just mastered it! What are we to use instead?’

‘That’s my problem too’, said my friend. ‘I can’t bring myself to use WhatsApp to arrange lessons or sort out administrative issues. It feels weird to write ‘hi friday ok this week? [smiley face]’. But it also feels wrong to text or WhatsApp them saying ‘Dear X, I was wondering whether Friday at 3pm would suit you for your lesson time this week?’ Especially if they reply, ‘Cool thx’. You feel like a fool.’

‘But you do get a reply to one of those instant messaging apps?’ I persisted.

‘Yes, I usually do. But like you said, if I send an email, I often wait ages for a reply, and quite often they just ignore it completely. It’s strange, because to me email still feels incredibly quick and easy. I used to do lots of my admin by letter, sent in the post. Email feels almost trivial by comparison, but it doesn’t seem to feel like that to students.’

‘Everything has changed so quickly!’ I said.

So quickly’, he agreed. ‘And the strange thing is: when we were taking the trouble to write proper letters, put a stamp on them and walk to the post box with them, we almost always got replies. Nowadays I almost feel that writing someone an actual letter, in an envelope, would make it less likely they’d bother to answer. They’d look at it, think, ‘God, how laborious!’ and put it aside with a sigh. If I want an answer now, I email people because I reckon that if there is a ‘reply’ button, they’ll use it.’

‘Except that they don’t, it seems’, I mused.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Cohen

    …even getting a coherent response when people are in the room with you can be hard enough!

    But I must point out that there are exceptions about people not writing letters. I have a lovely former mentoree, who has become a colleague and friend, who still sends me newsy letters and emails about pupils, repertoire, and his musical life in general. Possibly I am a musical grandparent-lite figure in his life, but it is good to know that the art of letter writing still survives in some quarters!


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