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Publishers Letter

Email can be a mixed blessing

Anyone who has a computer on their desk must often feel that it is the task-master rather than just a tool. I know that as soon as I turn on my computer, there is the inevitable temptation to check whether any vital emails have come through overnight. But as I scroll through, deleting the spam that has not already been filtered out and the “funnies” that people send to amuse me, I come across those that will ultimately appear in the magazine as letters to the Editor, Circuit Notebook items or requests for information. And there will be many more that require an answer or acknowledgement or just need reading. As you can imagine, not every letter to the Editor is published, nor every Circuit Notebook item featured and most requests for information, while answered, do not appear in the “Ask SILICON CHIP” pages.

But the mere process of looking in the Inbox is insidious. Before I know it, it can be after 11am and I still have not struck a blow in the immediate tasks for the day which are usually far more important than email. So I am caught in a dilemma. For most of my tasks, I need to turn on the computer but I really need to avoid clicking the icon for “Outlook Express” because it is such a trap.

Doubtless some readers will not want to read that emails to SILICON CHIP are not our top priority. In fact, they are – since so much advertising, subscriptions, reader orders, advertising material and other matters all come in via email. In fact, most incoming email is screened and dealt with by our office manager who also then directs the other correspondence to the appropriate staff members. And that is where the bottlenecks can build up. Since emails are so easy to send, many people expect a virtually instantaneous response. And if they don’t get that response within a few hours, they send another email – and then another.

Well, this is where we must ask you to be patient. There are times in our monthly production cycle when email must take a lower priority (apart from those dealt with promptly, as noted above). If all email was to be top priority, the magazine would never be produced on time and I am sure that readers would not be happy about that either. In fact, in those months when the magazine does go on sale late in the month (but still on schedule), we get emails asking why? You cannot win!

Nor are we able to answer technical enquiries by phone. We have just had to put a stop to this as it can be extremely time-consuming. You can see that this must be true. If someone asks a question about a project that might be five, 10 or even more than 40 years old, you have to get out the magazine, check the circuit (after listening to the question) and then give the answer. That might take 10 minutes or more and if we are right on deadline it just adds to the pressure. So please don’t expect us to take phone calls on technical matters – send your queries by email! And then please be patient. We are not sitting at the computer just waiting for your email to come through. In an ideal world, that might be possible but not in this one we are presently inhabiting.

And please don’t phone us and claim that you don’t have email facilities. This has been a ploy with some readers to the person initially answering the phone. Then when an answer is given, it turns out that they would be happy to receive some information by email. That can leave a sour taste. If you don’t have email, please send your enquiries by letter.

Some companies ban employees from answering any personal emails in company time – and they have the means and methods to enforce it. They also ban answering mobile phones, sending or checking text messages, Facebook and the like or anything not directly connected with the work in hand. From a business point of view, that has much to commend it. Without this sort of discipline, productivity drops markedly. We are no different – we cannot let email dominate the editorial production process.

Leo Simpson

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