So, I’m sitting here working and the fire is finally actually going and the TV (English TV via a huge dish on the roof) is on mute but I can see Lorraine Kelly talking about the clothes some models are wearing (beautiful models, hideous cheap clothes). The dog is sighing on his beanbag (very regal – a gold beanbag) and scratching his ear, which reminds me he needs his flea and tic medicine. I’ve got a cold and am wondering if it’s four hours since my last Lemsip and I’m also exhausted because my daughter was up weeping all night because some moron teachers at her school forced her to watch Life Is Beautiful, the Roberto Benini film about the Holocaust. She is nine. They are insane. When the Holocaust sinks in your childhood is over. I remember because I was 12 and got taken to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem by my dad’s girlfriend.
Anyway, here I am, blue pashmina wrapped round my neck, glasses on, staring determinedly at the screen. Really I am just neurotically checking my emails and reading the tabloids. This is working from home. I only communicate with my bosses by email. In fact, I only communicate with my friends by email. I only communicate with my husband by email. This is true even when he is here. He’s not very good with facemail.
In fact, I worked from home in my twenties when hardly anyone did. In those days I was on the phone to the Times for whom I wrote a weekly column. Not that email didn’t exist but people just phoned more. I used to go in to the office quite a lot to see everyone and chat and feel as if I had a life. Not that I did or anything, but illusion is everything.
Now work relationships are all online and something really horrible is happening. You know that advert about road rage that shows you how you wouldn’t behave like this if you weren’t in you car? It’s a bit like that with emails – people wouldn’t just ignore you when you spoke to them if you shared an office, if you passed them in the corridor to ask something about work or just to chat about your life. But people do ignore emails, effectively sending friends and colleagues to Coventry all the time (apparently this might be a reference to some Cromwellian soldiers being exiled to Coventry).
It happens to me every day. I email someone suggesting a piece I want to write and the person I emailed just never replies. The message, of course, is clear: ‘We don’t want the article.’ But not very long ago this would have happened by phone and they’d have said something like; ‘No, that’s not right for us.’ And when it first started happening by email people did politely email back, just as if you’d gone up to them in the office and offered them a piece to their face. Now people just don’t reply. Nothing. Empty screen. Silence.
I’m probably just stupidly romantic, but I find it really upsetting. It seems to me so bizarre that someone would just ignore me when I’m speaking to them. I don’t think I’ve ever ignored an email in my life – I just wouldn’t. BECAUSE IT WOULD BE APOCALYPTICALLY RUDE. Of course, occasionally, I might not get round to replying and then ages later I’ll write: ‘I’m so sorry it’s taken me forever to get back to you….’ But I would never just not ever reply. Asking someone to stop emailing you is not that hard, after all. I’ve often told people I don’t find junk joke emails funny and please don’t send them to me. They are always lowest common denominator humour – people slipping on banana skins to expose their arses etc. But simply never replying? Awful.I fell out with someone who I thought was my best friend a few years ago after she sent me a stunning email detailing what she hadn’t liked about me the last time she’d seen me (among other things – not as simple as that, of course). I replied with lots of apology and explanation and she just never wrote back. Not ever. It’s something that emails have allowed people to do. If we all lived in little villages with ducks and goats and donkeys and waded around in the mud with our rotten teeth and our fifteen children, we’d either have to talk to each other or tell each other why we weren’t going to talk to each other any more. A row would have to be had. We would have to turn away from each other in the street, making a point of it every single day. By email we can just send people to Coventry without thinking it’s even an issue. I can’t think of anyone who has just stopped talking to a person they see regularly. It doesn’t happen. You may not like everyone, but you exchange ordinary greetings just to acknowledge that you are both mammals and you are not about to bare you teeth and snarl. With emails there is no mutual mammalian acknowledgement. Fuck yous are easy to dole out and incessantly received. Because that’s what silence is.
I think that to speak to someone and be met with silence, a blank unknowing face, is one of the worst things in the world. There is a lot of psychoanalytic literature about babies looking for mirroring in the mother’s face and the damage that can be caused to infants by ignoring them or remaining blank. Unreplied to emails are the modern adult equivalent of that and it is a horrible, and actually quite new phenomenon. It’s a lot like road rage – something that shouldn’t be normal but has slipped under the radar and become standard behaviour. When did it become acceptable and can’t it be made to stop? Me, I have Lorraine Kelly for company. She always talks back….