The word of the day: Responsive

1. adj. Answering or replying; responding.
2. adj. Readily reacting to suggestions, influences, appeals, or efforts: a responsive student.
3. adj. Containing or using responses: responsive reading; responsive liturgy.

There is a generation of witless imbeciles who believe that being fast is more important than being useful. These people, and today’s word of the day, are Responsive. To identify one, send out an email and keep an eye on the second hand of your watch. Responsive People will fire back a note at reflex speed with a sentence-long email that contains zero usable information:

Got it. Will address right away.
Thanks. I’m on it.
Can’t read right now — will check it out in 5 hours.

Once upon a time in the 90s, some prophet of doom (like Marc Cuban or equivalent) proclaimed that ’tis better to have responded to an email within 30 seconds than to never have lov’d at all — and Responsive People are true believers. They’re the people who cut their teeth on Blackberrys and uttered troubling phrases like “I can’t live without BBM” out loud and in earnest. Members of this always-on and eminently reachable cohort have crafted their mobile signatures to say things like:

Sent from mobile please forgive any typos

This curt apologia is a cop-out. If the purpose of a fast response is to make the recipient feel heard, it doesn’t work. Your pathological hair-trigger stimulus response does not equal (or even approach) understanding. This may be subtle, but remember that Pavlov’s dog didn’t drool because he was hungry. He got hungry because someone rang a bell.

I don’t hate Responsive People and want each one to enjoy their life away from the office. If you’re between mouthfuls of a home-cooked meal right now, keep chewing. If you’re “on the move,” then keep both hands on the steering wheel. If you’re straining to grip the edge of a rocky crevasse with your fingernails, then you should attend to that. I don’t need you clogging my life with your abominable micro-updates.

And no, I do not forgive the typos. This is a Faustian bargain for knowledge workers at best. I can even hear the Lumberghian drawl in which it might be offered:

“Yeah, hi… if you wanna go ahead and work when you’re not actually at work… that would be great.”

In exchange, we don’t have to spell correctly? Yay.

(Aside to the did-you-get-my-email people who regularly walk over to other human beings’ desks to ask if they, in fact and reality, have received the email you sent them from your computer just moments ago: you should be rotisseried. I still suffer trauma from the thought of a skull hovering 12–18" from my shoulder, gaping at my screen and whispering “did you get my email?”)

Now now now. Some of you will say, “Look, I work in enterprise sales.” And say no more Brett, you are saving lives and I commend you on crushing it today, but for the rest of the knowledge worker class just about everything can wait. Every. Single. Thing. Can. Wait.

(Even the animated GIFs for the email newsletter? Even the animated GIFs for the email newsletter.)

The benefit of asynchronous conversation is found in that telling adjective, “asynchronous.” If sent you something, I want you to read it. Even better, I want you to understand it. Because think about what email is. In the Platonic workplace, we’d transfer Perfect Knowledge by touching our foreheads, and then go do the thing that our individual skills and talents allow us do better than our coworkers can.

Instead, we mortals must use email—our 8-bit substitute for telepathy. The result will always be imperfect and in progress. This is communication; something very different from work. Communication is not something to be “done.” Building understanding is a process, not a task. Talk is a verb, not a noun. Get it? Now let’s touch foreheads.

Spare me the scraps of non-versation that only deaden true understanding, and only serve to make you feel like you’re being productive. If it takes you 24 hours to respond to an email, no big deal. Just afford me the same courtesy.

Sent from a laptop computer plugged into the wall.