One of the first jobs I had was at a small insurance brokerage firm. As archaic as it sounds, back in those days, memos were physically printed and sent between offices in the mail (in fact, there may have even been the occasional handwritten memo sent). We didn’t have email, so if something was urgent, the only real options were to pick up the phone or send a fax. Every day, the post arrived in a big batch, and at the end of the day outgoing correspondence was collated and sent out in a big batch. If you wanted to keep a copy of something that you’d received you had to, well, make a copy of it and decide where and how to file it.
In that type of environment the cost of communication was very transparent. Every single inter-office memo sent increased the company’s postage cost, required additional paper etc. If you were replying to a memo sent to multiple recipients, you’d think long and hard about who needed to receive the reply. Absolutely nobody wants to spend any longer at the photocopier than they need to (and let’s face it, photocopying anything back then was potluck, with seemingly a one in ten chance the machine would jam or destroy your carefully printed original document in the sheet feeder). Because there was an inherent cost (and inconvenience) in communicating between offices, this type of communication tended to be considered, concise and some might say overly formal.
Fast forward to today and the economics of communication have changed drastically. I can send messages to friends all over the world by WhatsApp instantly at no additional cost beyond my usual internet connection fee. It’s possible to hit ‘reply’ to an email, and it’s no more expensive to send a reply to one or one hundred people (both are free). The frequency and velocity of communication has increased. We’re all dealing with more and more correspondence every day. There’s email, Slack, Teams, WhatsApp, SMS, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter and the hundred other ‘apps’ that have probably launched in the time it took me to write this blog… And this is a positive thing, it breaks down boundaries and enables people to easily collaborate. Nobody would want to go back to the inefficiencies of relying on post and fax.
However free messaging isn’t really free—done badly, it shifts the cost from the sender to the recipient. Let me explain what I mean…