The Day The Phone Call Died

The other day I had an actual telephone call on my cell phone.  Not an email, not a text, not a robocall from a telemarketer or scammer, not a social media interaction — an actual telephone call, where I spoke to real live person and we had a back-and-forth conversation in real time.  It seemed almost like a red-letter event.

Child talking on the telephoneI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the personal telephone call is dying a long, slow, agonizing death.  (Business calls are another matter, obviously.)  The process began with the decision of many people, Kish and me included, to get rid of our home land line phone because it had become only the source of annoying telemarketing and survey calls during dinner, and we figured we didn’t need it anyway because we had cell phones.  Then, with the advent of texting and email and social media, those became the preferred methods of communication.  Friends who used to touch base by telephone now do so by texting, often in group texts, or by responding to a Facebook post about a new job or new member of the family or new dog or new recipe.  It’s quicker and easier and viewed as less intrusive than placing an actual telephone call.  Others argue that these other forms of communication are more efficient than phone calls, because you can send pictures and attach documents and data.

It’s kind of curious that the number of phone calls are falling while the statistics show that the use of cell phones overall is increasing.  In short, people just aren’t using cell phones anymore for what used to be their principal purpose — i.e., making telephone calls — but instead are glued to their phones to check the news, reactions to social media posts, email traffic, and play games.

Will there be a day when the phone call as a communications tool actually dies?  That would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago, but it seems increasingly plausible now.  I hope it doesn’t happen, because I still think phone calls are superior for certain forms of communication — because in a telephone call you can hear the other party’s voice, which through its tone, and pauses, and other non-verbal clues can tell you something about how the other party is doing and how they are reacting to what you’re saying.  Phone calls are a lot more personal than texts or emails, and I hope there is always a role for them.

Seriously Sick Of Surveys

Some time ago we made a significant purchase.  For purposes of this post, the product or service in question is irrelevant.  It could be a phone, it could be a vehicle, it could be a major appliance, or a stay in a hotel, or some kind of streaming service, or a political contribution.  The item makes no difference, because it is the experience surrounding the expenditure that is the point — and the experience is, unfortunately, pretty much the same no matter what you spend your money on these days.

survey-11In virtually every case, you’ve got to make the decision on whether to give your email address and get the app that is specific to the purchased item.  These choices raise key decision points for the consumer:  do you give out your email address, knowing that you are losing control of an important bit of your personal privacy, and do you clutter your phone with apps that may give rise to unwanted beeps and buzzes and messages clogging your primary communications device?  I try to be judicious about this judgment call, and think about what I might really want and need as a result of each particular purchase.  If I think I may need to get an important message — like a product recall alert, or a warranty issue, or a service call — I’ll grudgingly give up the information.  Otherwise, I politely decline.

But when you do give up that information, the upshot is as predictable as an overnight Trump Twitter storm — you’re going to be getting surveys.  And in the modern world it won’t be just one survey; now, you’re likely to get a survey as soon as you make the purchase, and then get additional survey requests in the future, even if you’ve faithfully filled out the initial survey.  The survey bombardment is relentless.  Each survey request promises that it will take “only” a few minutes, but it’s pretty clear from the questions that what the survey is really seeking is not customer satisfaction information about the specific product or service you’ve just bought, but rather information about you and your personal preferences and perceptions and lifestyle, so that the seller of the item can better market things to you in the future.

I hate this reality of modern life.  The survey onslaught really irritates me, and also negatively affects my perception of the product.  It’s obvious that the seller that sends the survey doesn’t place much value on my time and also thinks I must be a sap, besides, if I’m going to gladly divulge personal information that enriches them and provides me with no benefit.  Maybe sellers with surveys are like email scammers — they know most rational people will just delete the message, but if they get just one sap to participate they’ve received a significant benefit at minimal cost.  I routinely delete the survey requests, and spend a few seconds steaming about the arrogance of the sender.

Do sellers understand how people like me react to surveys, or do they just not care?

Dogfishing

Here’s another sign of how out of step I am with popular culture:  the new trend in on-line dating websites is to post a photo in which the person who wants a date poses with some cute dog . . . who isn’t actually their dog.

dog-yawningIt’s called “dogfishing.”  The underlying concept is that a picture with an adorable dog instantly communicates something about the life and personality of the person in the photo.  Dog ownership is associated with positive qualities, so photos with dogs convey, to some people, at least, that the person is a friendly, nurturing type who loves animals.  After all, if the dog in the photo evidently likes the person, that’s an endorsement of sorts.  Plus, the dog in the photo is something that the two strangers who connect through the dating site can talk about when they meet each other.

So some on-line dating app users — mostly men, apparently — have decided to latch on to the positive associations of dog ownership, without actually having to deal with poop pick-up, worms, shedding, and the other negative attributes of actual dog ownership.  They find a dog, get a consciously cute picture taken with the dog, ditch the dog, post their picture, and they’re off to the races.  Apparently they’re banking on making a lasting connection before the people they meet through the websites figure out that there is no dog.

I’ve read about users of on-line dating sites misrepresenting their physical appearance, employment status, education, and the like, so another bit of conscious deception probably shouldn’t be a surprise.  But, to me, taking a fake photo with a cute dog in hopes that some gullible dog lover decides to venture a meeting seems to plumb new depths in on-line deception.  What’s next?  Fake mothers?

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.

Communications Breakdown

Recently I got an email my favorite uncle sent to my gmail account.  In the email, he posed a question about something, and when I opened his email I found that the gmail autobots had already provided me with three options for a reply email — “yes,” “I don’t know,” and “no.”  Any one of the three options would in fact have been responsive to the email question.

cyberAII found this troubling.  Of course, the proposed response options revealed that the gmail autobots had read the email to me, had interpreted the question correctly, and were sophisticated enough to develop likely responses.  It wasn’t a matter of simply seeing a question mark and generating standard replies; the proposed responses wouldn’t have been appropriate for a question about where something happened or when something was bound to occur.  But the privacy issues involved in this “read the email and suggest responses” process really didn’t bother me all that much, because anybody who thinks there is much privacy in gmail communications is really kidding themselves.

No, what bothered me instead was the continued roboticization of our interpersonal communications.  I wondered how many people, faced with this same scenario, would simply have chosen one of the three response options, used the phrasing proposed by the autobots, and been done with it.  The concept offended me, so I typed a response to the question in my own words — and of course the autobots made suggestions about my wording and employed autofill in case I needed to make the communications process even faster, more hassle-free . . . and less personal.

The whole incident made me think about how, in some respects, technology isn’t aiding meaningful human interaction, but instead might be effectively preventing it.  How much of our communications — from the “Happy birthday” wishes on Facebook to the proposed responses to email messages — is in fact a canned bit of programming sent by pushing a button, rather than the actual expression of a human being?

Nobody sends handwritten letters any more, but is a personally typed, self-composed email too much to ask?

A Quiet, Peaceful Place

Yesterday we took a hike around Lily’s Pond. In the summer it is a popular swimming spot, but yesterday, with the season over, not a soul was around. It was totally silent, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind — leaving the water unruffled and as reflective as a looking glass.

They say everyone needs to have a peaceful, happy place to think of when they need to escape the hurly-burly rush of modern life. When I need to mentally visit that quiet place, I’ll be thinking of Lily’s Pond, just as it was yesterday.

When You Need To Shave With An Axe . . .

I get all kinds of weird email offers and see strange products on pop-up ads, but I think I’ve just seen something that tops them all.  It’s the “Viking Celtic Nordic style straight razor warrior axe.”

magic-ethnics-warrior-axe-straight-razor-4As the name suggests, the product is a straight razor in the form of a miniature axe, one that some designer apparently thinks looks like the kind of lethal but cool axe that the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys might have used in days gone by.  And it’s not only got the faux ancient axe design — it also comes in a box shaped like a block of wood, with a little carve-out area for the axe.  You know, like the kind of wooden box the “Viking Celtic Nordic” guys used to carry their shaving supplies when they went on one of their raids.

It’s as if the simple act of shaving isn’t “manly” enough, so now we’ve got to up the ante by using a fake axe instead of a plain straight razor — or a safety razor with multiple blades, which is what I use.  Presumably after lopping off their facial hairs, the axe shavers are all charged up to go out and loot and pillage and ransack, just like the “Viking Celtic Nordic” studs used to do back when men were axe-shaving men.

It all seems kind of silly and desperate, doesn’t it?  Are there really guys out there who feel the need to buy this kind of stuff?  You can get it on Amazon for only $125.

Test Of Patience

In the modern world, patience is most certainly not a virtue.  We expect everything immediately, and feel incredibly put upon in the absence of instantaneousness.  Whether it is service at a store, fast food at the drive-thru window, or a split-second response when we type in a search, we demand an instant response.  And don’t even mention the possibility of the spinning circle of delay on our computer screens!

But sometimes, extreme speed is just not an option.  Consider, for example, driving on a winding two-lane country road behind a rusting panel truck.  Your GPS told you that it would take 90 minutes to get somewhere, and with supreme self-confidence you determined that you could do a little bit better than that.  But you didn’t figure on being behind a truck driver who apparently is being paid by the hour, because he sure is taking his own sweet time about getting to wherever it is he’s going.  Doesn’t he realize that your time is hugely valuable?  Doesn’t he approach his job with the same sense of urgency and need for speed that you apply to everything you do?  Doesn’t he understand that you’ve got to get somewhere, and so does everybody else who is now stacked up behind his sorry, slow-moving, rusting ass?

So you fret, and rage, but there’s not much you can do about it, is there?  Sure, you could take a chance, blindly pass him against that solid yellow line, and hope that no car or truck is approaching on the other side at that same moment in time, but you’re not that hot-headed and reckless, and anyway there’s a pretty steady flow of traffic on that other side.  There are no passing lanes on this road, and you’re not getting the intermittent yellow line when there seems to be a lull in traffic, either.  So . . . there’s really nothing to do but accept the fact that you’re going to be moving at a ponderous pace for the foreseeable future.

You think that maybe there’s something on the radio,so you fiddle with the channel changer and find a song that you like and haven’t heard in a while.  Because you’re passing the scenery at a veritable snail’s pace you can take a good look at the houses and trees, and some of them are really very pretty. now that you mention it.  And there’s something simple and kind of enjoyable about driving at something other than breakneck speed, and just letting the car drip into the swales of the roadway and feeling it gripped by gravity as it banks into a gentle turn on the black asphalt.  It’s really not that bad.  And soon enough, the truck driver is turning off the road, and you realize you’re still right on time, and losing a few seconds or even a few minutes because of that slow-moving truck really wasn’t a big deal at all.

It’s not a bad lesson to learn anew, every once in a while.

 

Email Tag Lines

Lately I’ve noticed an increase in email “tag lines.”  At least, that’s what I call them.  They are the little quotes that some people have added to their email communications.  They appear at the end of every email, as part of the writer’s signature stamp.  Like “An unexamined life is not worth living. — Socrates” or “All you need is love. — John Lennon and Paul McCartney” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going. — Knute Rockne.

quote-live-fast-die-young-leave-a-good-looking-corpse-james-dean-47-99-73Email tag lines are kind of strange (not to mention pretentious and presumptuous) when you think about it.  It’s hard to imagine that one quote, no matter what it is, could provide an appropriate coda to every different kind of email that a person might send.  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. — James Dean” might go well with an email planning a trip to Las Vegas, but it doesn’t really fit with an email expressing concern about a colleague’s illness or sorrow about the death of an aged relative.  Similarly, a tag line like “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination. — Napoleon Bonaparte” seems jarring when it appears at the end of a email passing along some bad jokes.

When I get emails from somebody who uses one of those tag lines, I always wonder about their motivation and how they came to add the quote to their email in the first place.  Did they just stumble across a quote from somebody that they thought was so true to the very core of their being that it just has to be included as a matter of course in every communication they send to people on any subject?  Or, did they first conclude that their email communications needed a little extra kick, and would be empty without some kind of concluding intellectual, political, or social statement from Descartes, John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King?

The bottom line, though, is that an email tag line, even when it does fit with the subject of the communication, can’t save you from yourself or mask your true nature.  Intellectual quotes can’t salvage an email filled with typos, poor grammar, and incorrect word use, and tag lines about love and peace won’t change the tone of a message establishing that the writer is an angry, unprincipled jerk.

In the end, content speaks louder than tag lines.

Casual, Chronic Tardiness

Yesterday I had an appointment with a medical professional whom I see regularly.  I always make my appointments with him and other doctors first thing in the morning so that I won’t have to wait in the event that prior appointments ran long.  And I got there early, to make sure that I would not be causing a delay.

time-spiral-680x340-1436399501And yet, when my appointment time came, I wasn’t summoned back.  Five minutes after the time of my appointment, I was still cooling my heels in the waiting room, paging through a magazine I really had no interest in reading because that’s what you do in medical waiting rooms.  Finally, about 10 minutes after the designated time, I was called back, only to learn that the person I was going to see first was still getting set up — which delayed things further.

Yesterday wasn’t the first time this has happened, in that medical office or others.  It drives me bonkers and really put me in a foul mood as my appointment began.  In my experience casual, chronic tardiness seems to be endemic among health care professionals.  You’d think that they would be concerned about internal health of their patients, and would recognize that making busy people wait is just going to add to their stress levels, as it did to me.  You’d think that health care professionals would make sure that they do whatever possible to be on time, so as not to suggest that they think their patients’ time isn’t valuable.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As I sat there, stewing, I pondered the appropriate response.  Tell the receptionist that I’m too busy to wait and just leave?  Complain to the young woman who saw me first?  Complain to the ultimate medical practitioner?  There really aren’t any good options.  Leaving in a huff seems like the act of an egomaniac, and bitching about lateness to health care professionals who are going to be working on you seems unwise.  So, I sat there and took it, as I suspect most people do.  And I realized that these people do a good job — when they finally get around to it — and I guess that if I want to continue to use their services I’m just going to have to take the bitter with the sweet.

Still, it irritates the hell out of me.  Is it really too much to ask that the first appointment of the day occur on time, and the person seeing the patient be ready to go?

Goat Yoga

When I first heard there was a “goat yoga” fad, I thought it probably involved yoga fiends doing poses that were . . . goat-like.  Just like, for example, yoga features the classic “downward facing dog” pose, or the camel pose, or the cat pose.

Perhaps goat yoga involves poses that involve standing on all fours, or shaking your head and twitching your ears, or eating a tin can, or making the goatish maaaaa sound?

goat-yoga-2But all of that is wrong.  “Goat yoga” evidently just involves doing yoga poses while goats are in the vicinity and — this is apparently especially important — having your picture taken in a yoga pose with the goat teetering on your back, or otherwise visible somewhere, so you can post the picture on your favorite social media outlet.  This story about goat yoga classes in Dallas notes that, for $36 bucks a pop, participants can get in an hour of yoga while more than a dozen goats from a nearby farm wander around, looking photogenic and selfie-friendly so those crucial snapshots can be taken.  Having been around goats at the petting zoo long ago, I’m guessing goats aren’t part of the mix because they emit a zen-inducing fragrance that is especially conducive to ekagra.  In fact, you’d think that having animals roaming around and potentially nibbling at your clothes while you’re working on getting that pose right might interfere with achieving the state of mind that yoga is supposed to help participants attain.

Why do yoga fans like doing their poses with goats, as opposed to sheep or some other moderately sized farm animal?  For that matter, why an animal at all, as opposed to, say, “cabbage head” yoga, or “abandoned sofa” yoga?  Apparently it’s just because people think goats are cute and look good in the inevitable social media selfies.  And they’re willing to part with 36 bucks for the privilege.

This says something about modern society, but I’m not sure what.

 

A Harsh Screed On Airplane Boarding

I’ve been doing a lot of air travel lately, and I’ve concluded that the boarding process is broken beyond repair.  Inevitably, it produces delays, irritation, and examples of all that is bad in human nature.   And, it even results in situations where normally even-tempered people (which I thought reasonably applied to me, until last night) end up grinding their teeth and resenting people who claim to have some kind of infirmity or other reason to receive preferential treatment.  I’ve reached the point where I’ve jsut got to unburden myself about it.

Last night, as I flew home on a Southwest flight, I saw all of the elements of what makes modern air travel so frustrating.  (Of course, Southwest goes by the A/B/C open-seating  approach, but the “zone” approach to seating now seems to be used by pretty much everybody, so the lessons are the same.)  We start by giving preferential seating treatment to anybody who claims some kind of infirmity.  They roll, hobble, or walk down the jetway first, and always take the choicest seats at the front of the plane — inevitably on the aisle, where they can take their own sweet time about getting out of their seats and allowing people to sit in the window or middle seats in their aisle, delaying the people who are getting on behind.  This always causes me to wonder why they choose the aisle seat, knowing that getting up and down, twice, is going to be a very . . . deliberate process

Then the people coming on behind take their aisle seats first, toward the front of the plane.  When people want to sit in the middle or window seats in their aisles, the aisle seaters have to stand up and block the aisle to allow the others through, further delaying people who are coming aboard.  And, as those people queue up, there are always further traffic jams behind as people try to find room in overhead bins around their seats.  On last night’s flight, some inconsiderate jerk shoved his bag into an inadequate space so that it was hanging halfway out of the overhead bin, which clearly couldn’t be closed, then left it up to a busy flight attendant to lug it somewhere else while claiming that he couldn’t do so because he was sitting inside one of the aged who takes forever to rise from his seat.

And, of course, deplaning is equally bad.  The aged and infirm at the front of the plane take forever to leave, and last night one of them decided he had to be a raconteur as he was oh-so-slowly getting off the plane, chatting up the captain and the flight attendants who had to act charmed by his comments while people who just wanted to get home were stacked up behind him like planes in a holding pattern over O’Hare.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished the codger would shut his pie hole and have the minimal self-awareness to recognize that he was unnecessarily inconveniencing everybody else.  By the time he and the rest of the aged had shuffled off the plane, the tension level of everyone behind them has reached a fever pitch and blood vessels were ready to burst.

So here’s my modest, politically incorrect, screed-infused proposal.  Can we please go back to boarding aircraft from the rear of the plane forward, so we don’t have the inevitable traffic jams that come from allowing people who are seated all over the plane to get to their seats in random order?  And while I understand the need to allow people who say they need “extra assistance” to get on the plane first, how about making sure that they are seated together and not on the aisle, so we don’t have to wait forever while they rise from their seats to let us by?  And how about adopting a first-on, last-off policy, which says that anybody who claims priority in boarding also agrees to wait until everybody else deplanes before they leave the plane?  This would avoid the wheelchair/walker/standing cane-related deplaning snarls that now occur — and might have the incidental benefit of discouraging people who really don’t need the special treatment to refrain from claiming it in the first place.  And if the seniors decide they need to have a long discussion with the flight attendants as they leave the plane, the rest of us won’t have to wait while they do so.

Air travel has really become unpleasant.  The boarding process is a big part of it.  I know waiting for five, ten, or fifteen minutes while these common issues are worked through, flight after flight after flight, isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but when you just want to get home every moment seems precious, and I’d rather spend them with my family than listening to Grandpa tell some eye-rolling joke to the co-pilot as he exits the plane at a glacial pace.

In The Cell Phone Lot

Thursday night found us in the cell phone lot of the Columbus airport, waiting for the arrival of a delayed plane at about 11:30 p.m.

When you think about it, the cell phone lot is a pretty weird place.  There you are, cheek by jowl with total strangers, with everyone’s cars packed tightly together.  And yet, while you are in close absolute physical proximity, in the sense that the cars and their drivers are literally right next to each other, there is a strong feeling of near complete emotional separation.  Everyone remains ensconced in their own little tightly controlled, specially heated or cooled vehicular cocoon, typically with their car in park and their engine humming, paying close attention to their cell phones.

In the cell phone lot, no one acknowledges the people in other cars.  No, even eye contact and a simple nod would somehow violate the perverse etiquette of the place.  In the cell phone lot, we’re all just there on our own, waiting for that call or a text, like lost souls in purgatory hoping to be summoned to our final destination.

At the Columbus airport lot, there are two curiosities.  One is a sign that says you can’t stay in the cell phone lot for more than an hour.  An hour?   In the psychically sterile cell phone lot, which gives off the ultimate in transient, leave me alone and get me out of here vibes?  Even 10 minutes in the lot is soul-crushing.

The other is a picnic table located right next to the lot.  I’ve never seen anyone sitting at that table, and I expect I never will.  Leave aside for a moment that a spot right next to a parking lot full of cars in idle, leaking exhaust, wouldn’t exactly be the kind of pastoral setting you look for in picnics — not only does no one in the cell phone lot want to leave their cars, they don’t want to see anyone else leave their cars, either.  If someone exited their car to sit at the picnic table, I’d predict that the other cars would immediately reposition themselves to form an empty buffer zone between themselves and the person who is breaching all perceived rules of modern behavior and is probably an axe murderer, besides.  In fact, the rest of us would probably leave the cell phone lot and take another lap around the baggage claim pick-up zone, just to clear our heads and get away from the unseemly misconduct.

The End Of Privacy As We Know It

The right to personal privacy isn’t a right that is specifically recognized in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, but it has been a recognized area of the law for decades, as well as a treasured ideal for many Americans.  For many people, the right to be left alone is an important one.

But this is another area where technology is simply changing the game.  Whether it is cookies left on personal computers that lead to pop-up ads that are specifically targeted to your website viewings, search engines that can sift through mounds of news stories, photos, and data in split seconds whenever a name is entered, tracking mechanisms on cell phones, surveillance cameras on every street corner, drones in the air, computer hacking, or listening devices that are routinely used by governmental entities, technology makes the ability to maintain some zone of privacy harder and harder.

20130203_adde1Social media also has had a significant impact.  Anyone who likes the convenience of Facebook as a way to keep in touch with their old friends, family members and colleagues is giving up a piece of their privacy.  And when technology and social media meet, the erosion can become even more pronounced.

Consider the news that a software developer has used the advances in facial recognition software to develop an app that allows you to take a photo of a stranger in a public place and immediately run a search for the identity of that person through Facebook.  It’s called Facezam, and it’s apparently going to launch on March 21, although Facebook is raising questions about whether the software is in compliance with the Facebook privacy policy.  But even if Facebook quashes the idea as to Facebook, you would imagine that the app could be modified to be applied to search through other sources of photos.

It’s creepy to think that random strangers, simply by taking your picture in a public place and unbeknownst to you, could then find out who you are and, if they’re so inclined, track you down.  One person in the story linked above describes that concept as the end of anonymity in public places, and I think that’s right.  If you want to guard against it, you can withdraw from any social media, refuse to get your photo taken, avoid going out in public except in disguise, avoid any travel, and stay in your room.  Those aren’t especially attractive options, are they?

Welcome to the Brave New World!

 

Ending The Email Chain

There’s a colleague at my office — we’ll call him the Young Fogey — who hates being thanked.

It’s not that he thinks people should be unappreciative.  No, he just hates getting that “thanks” email that frequently serves as an awkward effort to finally bring the lingering email chain to an end.  The first email poses a question, the response seeks clarification, the next email provides it, the following email gives an answer . . . and when the process finally ends, the Young Fogey gets that “thanks.”  He hates it, because it clutters his inbox.  “You don’t need to thank me!” he thunders.

I understand the Young Fogey’s point, because sometimes email conversations can be an exhausting, protracted process.  How are you supposed to end that long email chain in an appropriate way?  Just moving on after you ultimately get the answer to your question seems kind of cold and curt, like you’re ignoring what the other party to the conversation did.  On the other hand, the closure process can be . . . ungainly.

But I don’t think we should discourage people from saying “thank you” when they’ve been helped, either.  We could always use more manners and politeness in the world, and people who routinely say thank you just tend to be more pleasant to be around.  In fact, when I get the final “thanks” email, I often respond “No problem!  Happy to be of assistance.” — which no doubt would really drive the Young Fogey around the bend.

I’m not a fan of a cluttered inbox, and sometimes it can be a challenge keeping it to manageable levels.  Those “thanks” emails, though, aren’t really the problem.  I think the Young Fogey needs to take a deep quaff of Metamucil, accept those “thanks” emails with good cheer, and reflect on the positive fact that the people he’s working with feel the need to express their appreciation for his help and insight.