Monday, February 15, 2016

When communication is not only asynchronous, but also nonexistent

For the last several hundred years, there have been two basic ways for people to communicate with each other - synchronously, and asynchronously.

The specifics may have changed - for example, synchronous communication could not take place via video conference in the 1700s - but the types of communication are essentially the same. In synchronous communication, the two parties are engaged at the same time, and can immediately provide audio and/or visual feedback to each other. In asynchronous communication, one party sends the communication to the other, who responds at a later time - two seconds later, or two months later.

I am a huge fan of asynchronous communication via electronic mail. This allows me to respond on my schedule, starting with the highest priority items (my wife or my bosses) and eventually moving to the lowest priority items (you can save money on your electric bill!).

But there is a drawback to email, and to all asynchronous communication. These communications are founded upon an assumption that we are actually communicating with someone on the other end.

I know of two instances in which that was not the case.

I cannot share the details of the two instances, although there is one that I'd REALLY like to share if I could. But both boil down to the same thing. In each case, Person A sent an email to Person B at a particular company. Not receiving a response, or an out of office message, Person A sent a follow-up message to Person B. After increasing frustration, Person A finally asked other people, "Why isn't Person B responding to my emails?" In both cases, it turned out that Person B had left the company, and the person's email account was not disabled. Unfortunately for both Persons A, whoever was supposed to be monitoring the Person B account didn't do so, leading to a delay.

So people were communicating to other people who weren't there, and this fact was not known.

Of course, there are benefits to this. Have you ever wanted to send a nasty email, but then realized that it could do great damage to yourself? Well, if you ever discover one of these unattended email accounts, just send it there. is a good example of such an account.

Then again, perhaps your nasty email would be the one that WOULD be seen by someone...
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