It's a technical failure

Shop Girl by Kitty Kaufman

How many emails do you get? Think about it but I don't want to know. All I want to know is: when I write, will you answer? And when I call, will you call back?

I commiserate with Mike Newton about people we call who won't call us even when we use our cheerful voices. Mike and I used to sell merchant services and we were naive. Now, not calling back is normal. It's so contagious you think you better call someone in the health department. When you leave voice mail, sometimes what you get back is an email . . . and it's from their assistant. It's annoying but it's better than nothing.

It used to be people would call back. If they didn't want to talk, they'd call when you were at lunch. Then the whole thing was back on you. Which I now understand, when I finally do get you on the phone and how I know you know I've been calling, you tell me: "We're playing phone tag." Of course.

One night I was having dinner with two women at the Cheesecake Factory and I said to one, "Your computer is broken." Her eyebrows vanished and she said, "No, it isn't." I said, "It must be, your reply button doesn't work." As you can imagine, this didn't help the friendship. It was contagious; the other one started doing it too. You're thinking, "They're just not that into you" which might have been true but it wasn't; it was passive aggressive and I felt bad about it.

Because so many business relationships run on email, it takes more. Spelling counts, grammar too because it's easy to misread the simplest of notes. With business ties who don't answer, I imagine something tragic has happened and yet this is never true. Of course, I would feel bad but I would be less annoyed.

Like inviting someone to connect on LinkedIn. Not a stranger, it's someone you met last night and you never hear from them. Six months later Linkedin lets you know, aha, you're connected to someone. You have no idea who it is since you ditched the business card weeks ago figuring they want nothing to do with you. Linkedin is very good at staying in touch and not in an annoying way.

I've been thinking about what you could write when you don't want to. There's "yes" or "no" or "I don't know." "Maybe" is useful. "Let me think about it" we know is no but still. There's "What a great idea, I'd love to" or "I'll call you later." While "I don't want to" works in person, for email, "I have plans tonight, thanks. Let's do dinner next week." Anything is better than nothing even when what you write is not what we were hoping for. Reciting one's calendar: I know quite a few people who do this and I am not impressed.

So sad about all this technical failure what with texts flying south and emails sliding off the edge. Email: it's a shout! Someone wants to connect, bore, impose, take advantage, or ask for money. Really, you have that much? You're booked? Write anyway.

© December 26, 2011 Kitty Kaufman is a New Yorker who lives in Boston.
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