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Memory is one of my talents.   Though hardly the stuff of poetry, one use for my memory is tracking how people like to be contacted.   Nancy texts, Will sends Twitter DMs, Alison only reads email during the week…

I send out a quarterly email newsletter.   It’s a select, permission-based list; if I don’t have value to offer to you, I won’t ask your permission.   It’s a labor of love, requited when people forward the newsletter to a friend, send me kind notes, or mention it in conversation.

To avoid spam-only relationships, usually I connect with people offline, too, or remove them from the email list.  Maybe they said “yes” to be polite.   (Thanks!)

The newsletter software package offers rough statistics, like how many opens, or clicks on links.

From 2009 to 2010, my open rate has gone from 50% to just above 40%.

This still far exceeds industry averages.   The software returns imperfect data.   I’m boring.

Beyond facts or fears, it feels like there’s more going on.  It’s been bugging me.

We all know dark email stories about conversations gone wrong:  “reply all” with a not-for-email comment; compounding interpersonal issues with quick responses that are misunderstood.   (Pick up the phone!)

Yet there are more subtle fails.   A response, but to one point in the mail.   An element presented as hypothesis, responded to as fact.

Or, a response makes me wonder if I’m insane.   I see the subject line, I know what I wrote (that’s there, too) and the response is so off topic that I wonder if my mail was even read.

When I got my smartphone, I used the word “love”.

But I never mastered typing with thumbs and fingers.    So I read email on the phone, respond from a keyboard.   This can create trouble:   something important marked as read, and buried by new mail before I return to the office.   And I don’t respond at all.  Epic fail.

Are my newsletter stats and seemingly disconnected email responses an artifact of smartphone behavior?  The newsletter’s not easily read via mobile; responding to the 8 points in my three paragraphs, complicated.

I get it.   Starting now, an experiment:  no emails longer than 8 sentences.   (What to do about the newsletter, unclear — thus renewed blogging, tweeting and entry to Facebook.)

We use email to manage people, too.   We’re in different locations, I want a paper trail, when it’s in writing they’ll understand me…sometimes, I’m lazy.

Business case studies of the space shuttle disasters illustrate the sometimes heartbreaking consequences of boiling the wrong things down, too simply.

Forget my communications issues:  can we manage people by smartphone?

More to the point:  is it really smart?

(Photo, adapted from “what, no cell phone?” by Beth Rankin, used under Creative Commons License.