In the recently released 1985 interview with Playboy, Steve Jobs had this to say about the telegraph in comparison to the telephone:
It [the telephone] performed basically the same function as the telegraph, but people already knew how to use it. Also, the neatest thing about it was that besides allowing you to communicate with just words, it allowed you to sing.
It allowed you to intone your words with meaning beyond the simple linguistics. And we’re in the same situation today. Some people are saying that we ought to put an IBM PC on every desk in America to improve productivity. It won’t work. The special incantations you have to learn this time are “slash q-zs” and things like that. The manual for WordStar, the most popular word-processing program, is 400 pages thick. To write a novel, you have to read a novel–one that reads like a mystery to most people. They’re not going to learn slash q-z any more than they’re going to learn Morse code. That is what Macintosh is all about. It’s the first “telephone” of our industry. And, besides that, the neatest thing about it, to me, is that the Macintosh lets you sing the way the telephone did. You don’t simply communicate words, you have special print styles and the ability to draw and add pictures to express yourself.
I can’t help but think that Jobs looks at email and thinks that email is very similar to the Telegraph, in fact a great deal of our online communication these days lacks that intonation that is heavily relied on in speech.
Still to this day there is a lot of miscommunication happening due to the lack of intonation in communication mediums such as text messages and emails. People think I am ‘mad’ all the time because I send brief emails, or they think I am joking when I am anything but joking. Is that why Apple decided that FaceTime needs to be an “open” protocol?
I can tell you one thing, communication is never clear unless it is done face to face. Even video conferencing does not solve this. When you stand and talk to another person you take note of every movement they make, you know if they like what you are saying or not based on more than just words and facial expressions, the way they stand, shake your hand, shift their weight – all important things.
There really is no point to this other than to throw the thought out there to everyone – how do you digitally convey all these non-verbal cues?
[This part of an ongoing series on dealing with email, to see more posts look here.]