Walking Past The Drive-Thru Line

I’m on the road again, staying in one of those generic hotels that is located in a busy commercial area, right next to a Chick-Fil-A and a Carl’s Jr. restaurant.  It’s one of those places where you walk out of the front door directly into a parking lot for a bunch of other businesses in a strip shopping area.

Let’s just say it’s not exactly a bucolic hotel setting.

But, the hotel location does have the advantage of requiring me to walk past the drive-thru lines of those two fast food emporiums on my way to and from meetings.  It always brings a smile to my face, because hearing the interactions between the customer in the car and the employee working the intercom as I walk by is pretty hilarious.  It makes me think that fast food drive-thru lanes are probably the worst communications systems known to man.  In fact, you could argue that they are consciously designed to avoid effective communication, rather than promote it.

Start with the generic message that you get, asking if you want to get the new menu item the place is featuring, which causes the customer to wonder whether they are talking to a real person or hearing a recording.  Then there’s a long pause, while the customer wonders whether they’re supposed to go ahead with their order or wait.  When the employee finally says go ahead, the flustered customer proceeds with the order, and there’s inevitably one or two questions from the employee that the customer doesn’t understand.

Squawk — “Do you want to Super-size that?”

Squawk — “What?”

Squawk — “DO YOU WANT TO SUPER-SIZE THAT?”

Squawk — “No.”

Squawk — “Would you like to make that a meal?”

Sqauwk — “What?  No.”

And then there’s the awkward pause at the end, where the customer wonders whether the employee is done firing questions and the conversation is finally over and they can just drive ahead and get their food.

We’ve grown accustomed to this kind of stuff in the drive-thru line, but hearing it from a distance makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just stop, park, and talk directly to a real person when ordering food.

 

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Indexers And Thumbers

Have you ever noticed that people send texts in two different ways?  (And I’m not talking about overuse of emoticons, either.)  Some people use their index fingers to tap out their messages, whereas other people use their thumbs.  And people never seems to vary how they do the texting, either.  You’re either a thumber, or an indexer.

stop-texting-with-people-when-youre-not-interestedWhen you think about it, it’s a bit odd that there is no universally accepted method for efficiently and correctly performing what is now a widely used form of modern communication.  It’s like watching someone sit down at a keyboard and then use a totally unknown approach to quickly and accurately typing out a document — say, by positioning their hands at each side of the keyboard or coming in from the top, rather than the bottom.  Or handing someone a cell phone and watching them use the buttons to send a message in Morse code rather than speaking.

Both the thumb approach and the index approach seem to be equally functional — although, being a thumber myself, I firmly believe that the thumb method allows faster messaging.  I wonder if the two methods exist side-by-side because texting is still a relatively new form of communication and we’re in the VHS versus Beta phase, where standardization hasn’t set in.  The fact that there isn’t vocational training on texting — at least, to my knowledge, not yet — probably also contributes to texters having more freedom to develop their own favored method.

One thing is clear, however — thumbing versus indexing definitely has a different look.  The index approach to tapping out a message is far more genteel and elegant, with the three unused fingers of the hand dangling to the side of the phone, giving the same kind of look projected by blue-haired sophisticates who sip their tea from delicate china cups with the pinky extended.  The thumb approach, in contrast, treats the cell phone like a sturdy hand tool that you grip tightly and use to mash out a message without a second thought.

One approach is high society, the other is blue collar.  Me, I’m a blue-collar guy.

Mouthing

Recently I rode the office elevator down to the first floor at the end of a work day.  As the doors opened, I saw one of the janitorial staffers polishing a table a few feet away.

“Hello,” I said, aloud, because politeness dictates acknowledging the presence of another human being under such circumstances, and she mouthed something — probably “hello” — in response.

photo-24800461-talking-lips-of-a-womanEh?  What was up with the mouthing?  There was no one else around, and no apparent reason why the staffer wouldn’t speak.  The mouthing created a kind of weird imbalance in our communication, and I shuffled off into the wintry evening feeling vaguely shortchanged.

I can understand mouthing in certain, extremely limited circumstances.  If you were late to a speech, say, and sat down at a table while the speaker was talking, it would be perfectly acceptable for a table mate to mouth “hello” at your arrival.  If you were sitting in a meeting, clearly getting ready to interrupt the boss, one of your concerned co-workers could reasonably mouth “don’t” to try to prevent your blunder, or if you were at dinner with a group of friends your wife could properly mouth “No!” to try to discourage you from launching into an embarrassing story that she knows will otherwise be forthcoming.

But, really, that about covers the spectrum of appropriate mouthing scenarios.  In virtually any other setting, mouthing is not an efficient form of communication.  It presumes lip-reading skills, and almost always provokes a double-take from the recipient.  Why not just speak up, instead?  And yet, mouthing seems to be gaining in popularity for unexplained reasons, like some stupid internet meme.  What, are people now too cool to talk?  I’ve encountered it elsewhere, and I don’t know why.  All I know is . . . it bugs me.

I’m not blaming the janitorial staffer in this instance, I guess, because there may be reasons for the mouthing that I don’t suspect.  Perhaps her English is not good, or maybe a supervisor told her not to talk to the lawyers.  Who knows?  But from now on, if I am subjected to mouthing in a situation that doesn’t call for it, I’m going to say, aloud:  “Hey!  What’s up with the mouthing?”

Non-Emailers

The fallout from Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a personal email address and server rather than an official U.S. government one when she was Secretary of State continues.  Most recently, she announced that she should have used a government email address — no kidding! — but also says she’s deleted emails from that personal server that were private and that the server itself will never be produced if she has anything to say about it. I guess we’ll just have to trust her and her staff to make a complete and thoughtful production.

But enough about Hillary; we’ll no doubt be hearing more from her in the future.  One of the more interesting elements of her email tale is that it has provoked some politicians to step forward and declare that they don’t use email.  South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham says he has never sent an email — which is a bit strange because he is a member of the Senate Internet Policy subcommittee.  Other Senators similarly don’t use email.

Bill Clinton also is a non-emailer.  His spokesman says he’s only sent two emails in his entire life, both while he was President, which means he hasn’t used email for about 15 years.  That’s kind of weird, too, because Hillary Clinton says that one reason she’s not producing the email server she used is that it includes “personal communications from my husband and me.”  How personal communications from a confessed non-emailer made it onto an email server is anybody’s guess, but I’m sure the Clintons will promptly clear up that little inconsistency, too.

It’s hard to imagine not using email at all in the modern world.  I can understand wanting to have some important conversations face to face, where the people involved can react to each other, or concluding that a nice handwritten note about an important occasion is a more meaningful, personal touch than sending a message that ends up in typeface on a glowing computer screen.  But email is now so ubiquitous that complete non-use makes you wonder:  why?  Is it really plausible that these folks never tried to use a new form of technology even once?  Do the non-users think they’re just too important to use a handy communication tool that the rest of us use on a daily basis?  Are they afraid that they are going to say something stupid or intemperate and that it will be preserved for all time?  Are they so clumsy and incapable in their typing — or thumbing — skills that they just refuse out of frustration?

It’s like still using pony express when you could make a telephone call.  It immediately suggests that you are out of touch and out of step with the modern world and the daily lives of most Americans.  Politicians who aren’t using email aren’t violating federal law, but they are violating societal norms.

Lines Of Communication And The Sam Adams Summit

UJ says I always criticize our President — which I don’t believe is true — but in any case let me say something positive about his decision to sit down with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley in an effort to put the Cambridge incident behind him.  I don’t think that President Obama should have gotten involved  in what is really a local matter in the first place, but clearly he had reached the point where he felt he needed to put this behind him and do something that looked like it brought closure.  Having made that decision, the most effective mechanism was to sit down with the two parties face to face.  The fact that President Obama did so over a glass of beer is not going to hurt his standing with middle America, either. 

I firmly believe that some forms of communication are more likely to lead to compromise and resolution than others.  In my experience, a face to face talk is best because people typically tend to temper their language in direct communications.  When you are sitting across the table from someone, observing their facial reaction to your words, you will choose your words more carefully.  You will recognize the person across the table is a human being with feelings, and most people don’t like to unnecessarily hurt other people’s feelings.  So, instead of saying that the person across the table acted like a stupid jerk, you might say that their conduct was regrettable and led to misunderstanding.  The element of disapproval is still there, but the tone is not so harsh — and in communications tone is important. 

Face-to-face communications are at one pole of the spectrum of communication.  A telephone conversation is next best, because you can hear how your comments are being received and react accordingly.  At the other end of the spectrum is e-mail, where it is too easy to type an incredibly strongly worded statement in the heat of the moment and hit send, only to regret having done so almost instantaneously.  People often will write something that they would never say to another person face to face.  (This is why everyone should take a deep breath and pause for a sip of coffee before hitting the send button on their next angry e-mail.)  It was a good move for President to set up the Sam Adams Summit rather than trying to resolve this particular incident by an e-mail exchange.