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Jab send button, delete all talk

- Email vs spoken word

London, Sept. 23: Email is killing off the art of conversation, according to a poll conducted among office workers in Britain.

The picture painted is of a world in which workers exist in a cocoon, more comfortable pressing the “send” button on their keyboard rather than walk across to have a word face to face with a colleague possibly at the next desk.

The survey has been conducted by officebroker.com, which calls itself “the UK’s most comprehensive online search facility for office space”. Its sample of 600 is relatively small but the findings fit in with a mountain of data that show that while email has undoubtedly made speedy communication possible, it has also reduced face-to-face contact.

The poll found that 68 per cent of respondents preferred to deal with other people through email or on the telephone even if they were in the same building.

Some workers said they wanted to keep their distance from colleagues or clients to avoid awkward questions and being trapped into taking on more work.

More than half (52 per cent) said they felt less confident dealing with people in person because they had become so reliant on using email, the phone and Skype.

Email has also led to a dramatic fall in letter writing, especially in long hand.

In the land that invented the “penny post” and introduced the concept that for a small charge a letter could be sent from one remote corner of the UK to another, a first-class stamp now costs a staggering 60 pence and a second-class stamp 50 pence.

Biographers are also expressing regret that their task will become very difficult in the years to come. For a start, the hastily sent email or text message, concluding with “x”, has replaced the carefully composed and occasionally tear-stained love letter.

Commenting on how emails are taking over the lives of office workers, a spokesman for officebrokers.com said: “Technological advances have revolutionised the speed at which we are able to communicate and the amount of information we are able to share in a short period, which can only be viewed as a good thing for employees and employers alike.”

“However, what our survey has revealed is that many workers have become so comfortable sending email all day, they have lost the ability to communicate as effectively in person and, as such, avoid doing so where possible,” the spokesman added.

Email have apparently ushered in a brave new world and a barrier against awkward questions.

The spokesperson said: “Being asked awkward questions or being cornered into taking on new tasks were two of the main reasons cited as to why many workers preferred to keep their distance from colleagues and clients, using email as a barrier to these issues.”

Sending email is not without risk, though, the company has pointed out.

A business manager accidentally sent details of all his employees’ salaries on a company group email. Realising his error, he set the fire alarm off to clear the office before going round and deleting the email from every inbox.

On another occasion, an IT professional unwittingly managed to “out” a friend to his family. Having received a chatty group email from the friend who had moved to New York, he replied suggesting it would be a great opportunity for him to find himself a new man — only he had hit “Reply to All”, thus revealing his friend’s hidden sexuality to his nearest and dearest.

Email have had a devastating effect on the Royal Mail. Postal volumes have declined by 25 per cent since 2006 and are expected to fall another 25-40 per cent in the next five years.

Last year, Royal Mail’s letters business, from which it gets two-thirds of its revenue, lost 120m.

A watchdog, Consumer Focus, has warned that the rise in the price of second-class stamps to 50p could see “a noticeable jump” in people abandoning Royal Mail altogether.

The historian Professor Lisa Jardine, daughter of the great scientist Jacob Bronowski, has lamented the near death of the letter.

“In these days of email, texts and instant messaging, I am not alone, I feel sure, in mourning the demise of the old-fashioned handwritten letter,” she said in a BBC broadcast. “Exchanges of letters capture nuances of shared thought and feeling to which their electronic replacements simply cannot do justice.”

Jardine observed that when her scripts are posted on the BBC website, it generates hundreds of anonymous messages. “Very few of these observe the courtesies enshrined in traditional letter-writing. Many adopt a curiously curt tone: I have not consulted my sources correctly, they insist, or I have misled my listeners. ‘Call yourself a historian’ is a regular, shrill opener — email and posts have mostly dispensed with the niceties of ‘Dear Lisa’ or ‘Yours sincerely’.”

“Yet if I answer such an email — and I do try to respond to them all — the reply that follows will be couched in very different terms,” Jardine added. “It will be prefaced by the kind of placatory remark, ‘I did not mean to imply criticism,’ or ‘I hope you did not think me rude.’ It is as if between the first and the second response I have become a person — an actual recipient of the communication — rather than an impersonal postbox. So the courtesy and simple good manners of more old-fashioned letter-forms are restored to our correspondence.”