One of the convenient consequences of posting one’s thoughts on a blog is that readers (the happy few in my case) will send along links to interesting ideas or stories related to what I’ve written. Yesterday I wrote about resisting the temptation to communicate thoughtlessly and artlessly via digital media and pushing back against the pressures for more efficient, mechanical, and soulless communication. In response I received a link to a post titled, “How ‘EOM’ Makes Your Email More Efficient.” (h/t: DFR)
EOM, for the blissfully uninitiated, is short for “End of Message.” The idea is pretty simple: turn your email subject lines into the actual content of the message and add on “EOM” so that the recipient knows they don’t need click through to read the body. This saves you the time of writing a subject line and a greeting and a body and a closing. It also saves the recipient the effort of clicking through to the main text of the email. But wait there’s more! Actually there are TEN listed benefits to EOM-ing (might as well — texting, emailing, Facebooking, Twittering, friending — in our exciting, transgressive times nouns become verbs!). Other advantages include: if you do it, others will do it too and EOM encourages 100% readership!
All very efficient to be sure. Reading the cheerfully and engagingly written post I was almost convinced this was a wonderful, life-changing practice. Okay, dropping the sarcasm, I get it, seriously. There are certain exchanges that happen over email that do not need to be packaged in the style and form of a royal proclamation or a papal encyclical. Fine, fair enough. And to their credit, one of the advantages listed is that you encourage more face-to-face communication. If you can’t say it efficiently via email, then maybe you just need to go talk to the person (pause for audible gasp). Great, that would be wonderful (unless our face-to-face adopt the syntax and style of our online communication). The work place is busy, hectic, stressful; easing the demands of always online work life is commendable.
But (you knew it was coming), there is still this lingering fear that the ideals of efficiency and instrumentality, perfectly appropriate at some points and in certain contexts, will spread into realms of human communication where they ought properly to be unwelcome and shunned. Yet, efficiency and instrumentality are alluring ideals that make few demands and promise great rewards, and so they insidiously infiltrate and colonize.
Sometimes I wonder if we are not operating under the unspoken assumption that perfect communication is something like the telepathic communication depicted in science fiction and fantasy. That would be efficient indeed. No words, no sounds, no effort. No risk, no charm, no beauty.
So my tendency is to resist the push for increasing efficiency and instrumentality in our communication; not because I fail to see the advantages, but precisely because I recognize their appeal. I tend to think Goethe was right, “We should do our best to encourage the Beautiful, for the Useful encourages itself.” Agitate for beauty.
I’ll leave off with another poet, W. H. Auden, who also knew a thing or two about language, beauty, and responsibility.
As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.
Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.
Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.
(“Their Lonely Betters”)