Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The letter vs email

I'm running a little experiment at the moment. I'm examining the effectiveness of writing letters to people vs sending them a fax or an email.

All the stuff I am sending is purely in a private capacity - there's no business related stuff - but the letters that I have been despatching have been a request to someone to do something.

The response has been interesting.

Sending an email is a waste of time. Unless you are personally known to the recipient, it appears that most unsolicited emails end up being caught by a spam filter.

Faxes are sometimes treated as official correspondence, but not that often. None of the faxes that I have sent has resulted in a succesful outcome - that being, something being done about the thing I wrote about.

Filling in a web request form usually gets you nowhere as well, since no one seems to have been given the job of monitoring the output of those web pages. Or someone was given the job, and they have now left the company, and no one has picked up the baton.

I'm pleased to report that a good old fashioned letter works almost every time, unless you are dealing with our dopey local MP. A cluebat wouldn't work on her either. Waving a cheque under her nose might do the trick.

So after years of being promised that email will improve communications, lower costs, speed things up etc etc etc, I have come full circle and have reverted to writing letters. This from someone who was an early adopter of bulletin boards and Compuserve and wrote emails home from what I regard as the worlds first internet cafe in Seattle... at a time when the web did not exist.

That meant going to the post office today and stocking up on $10 worth of stamps, and I can sense that a visit to the supermarket to buy more envelopes is fast approaching.

Why has it come to this?

It all comes down to the seriousness of intent. An email costs nothing to send, and takes seconds to write. It lacks substance - it's too easy. It's too instant.

A fax is not much better. At least it has a signature on the bottom, and comes out on paper, but a fax only costs as much as a local call.

A letter on the other hand indicates that the writer is dead serious. No one writes letters anymore, so to start with, it's clear that the author is mad. It always pays to be attentive to mad letter writers - you might wake up one night and find them sitting on the end of your bed with an axe and a half plucked chicken and a mouthful of feathers.

A letter also costs serious money to send. The writer has to fork out for paper, an envelope and a 50 cent stamp. The writer has to be wound up enough about whatever it is they are writing about to sit down, write a properly formatted missive, sign it, fold it, find an envelope, stick a stamp on it - and then, most of all - walk down the road and post it. I think it is the walking down the road to post the letter that really implies intent, since it demonstrates that the author is willing to give up his or her time to the cause. When you get a letter from a lunatic like me, the reader can generally visualise a very steamed-up person stomping down the road to the letter box, yanking open the handle, slamming in the letter and bashing the slot shut. You just know that unless they get a quick and satisfactory response, they will march up to your office, kick the door in and set fire to your nostril hairs.

I think that also implies that if a response is not made, then the author will be walking down to the letter box repeatedly until they get what they want. Email is send and forget. Letter writers probably have a filing system that ensures that if a response is not recieved within 30 days, a follow up is sent.

Letter writers are also patient. They are like snipers. Never mess with snipers or letter writers. They are patient enough to write something, and post it....... and then wait a week or two for a reply. In our society of instant gratification, that illuminates a person like a beacon. No one is crazy enough to wait weeks for a response - except the mad letter writer.

If you want something done, reach for a stamp.

No comments: