You never write, You never phone…

You never write, You never phone…

Knowing the appropriate tool is a skill, a skill often acquired after years of training, apprenticeship or else learnt by our mistakes. I learned the hard way when to use an angle-grinder instead of an old wood chisel for example. (I also learned, whilst using the 12 inch grinder, that removing part of the old chimney-stack, in my basement flat, to make room for a washing machine etc. that this was likely to have a deleterious effect on the whole seven storey listed building. That would indeed be another story.) The point I’m almost hastening to make is, that not everyone knows how best to use the tools available to us today.

I am referring to the TOOLS OF COMMUNICATION.

Sixty years ago, for most people, there was the letter, the public phone box or the telegram. People knew where they were. (At home mainly.) And the rules were simple.

You wrote, “Letters of thanks, letters from banks, Letters of joy from girl and boy*…” and so on. Letters were ubiquitous.

You phoned, when there was important news to impart, or because you were a long way from home, or you wanted to keep in touch with a loved one. Phone calls were infrequent and expensive (unless you reversed charge to a phone box).

You sent a telegram to congratulate the bride and groom, or inform someone of a death. Telegrams were extremely rare.

You can still write a letter of course. If you can find a phone box you can even avail yourself of the public phone – if you know how to. (They don’t even seem to vandalize public phone boxes like they used to.)

You can still send a telegram but only if you have access to a computer. It’s been called ‘telegramsonline’ since 2003.

So how do we communicate today? Letter, Phone, (landline/mobile) Text, Facebook, email, Tweet. Some people still fax.

The problem about this plethora of writing tools is this; ‘Where to start’. There are so many tools in the box. The trick is, knowing which one is the most appropriate for the job.

  • Do I text my Gran to say, “Nice 1 X” when she has sent me £100 for my birthday? Or is a letter more apposite.
  • Do I email my new employer accepting the job with, “Hi, yeah, cheers mate!!!! Cool. See you guys next week.”
  • Do I ring the local council about the parking fine from my mobile? “Your call is in a queue. We are experiencing an unusual number of calls at the present time. Your call is important to us. If you are ringing about tree surgery please press 1. If you are…”

You see the dilemma.

I was told recently of someone’s mother informing her two grown up children that her sister, their aunt, had died. The mother, new to Facebook, sent the message via her ‘Status Box’, i.e. everyone could read it. Sadly she fell into the trap Mr. Cameron was caught in sometime ago. She was not up to speed with common parlance, newspeak, current abbreviation – call it what you will. The message read,

“Your Aunt Margaret died in her sleep last night.

There will be a funeral on Friday. L.O.L”**

The point is, there are no clear rules anymore and without them it is so easy to use the wrong tool. Texting can be too abrupt, too often. Yet there can be beauty in brevity viz, “UR dumped”.

Even a well considered email can lack the clarity, the precision, of a letter. Some conversations require a rapid two way response so that phrases like, “no. no, no, I definitely didn’t mean that. What I meant was…” can be included. I know of too many emails that have inadvertently led to trouble. The wrong message can, and frequently does, get through. Everyone has examples. Don’t send them to me. Unless you’re using pigeon post.

Letters require a good pen and should take much longer. But there’s always the feeling that you could be called to account if you actually write a letter.

We should choose with care. Pick the right tool for the job. Think it through. These days though, it seems there can be litigation for the very briefest of tweets. If Paul Chambers had had the conversation about his delayed flight on the phone,

“This is crap!”

“Sorry sir there’s nothing we can do about your flight at the present time,”

“You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together; otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!”

“Now, now sir. I understand your frustration but…”

“Frustration! I’m bloody livid.”

Try ringing us in two days sir and if we can’t guarantee your flight we will try make other arrangements…”

All I’m saying is it might have ended better and quicker.

Is there an equivalent of ‘Caveat Emptor’ for writers? Because we really should beware!

Writer is ‘Scriptor’ surely.

That’s it then; ‘Caveat Scriptor’ should be the maxim. Or is that, ‘Cavere Scriptor’. Or maybe ‘Praecaveo…

I’ve already run out of characters and plainly, I never had the Latin.



* The Night Mail – WH Auden

** I assume everyone knows by now. In case you don’t LOL no longer suggests Lots of Love. It means Laugh Out Loud.

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