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Forget Email, Send Me a Raven!

The Game of Thrones TV series gave me a much needed kick in the ass to start reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin. Again. I actually read the first book or two a couple years ago, around the time when the fourth book was coming out. Even though I found the story amazing, I somehow never got to the other books.

Watching the TV show did however remind me of the books, and considering the fact that I recently plowed through all three Fifty Shades books without punching something or somebody, I decided it was about time I actually read something brilliantly written for a change.

And I’ve been completely immersed in the series for a while now. It’s probably one of the only reasons why I still voluntarily put up with the awful public transit in Ljubljana - I found out that I can read a lot on my iPhone while waiting for the bus or riding the bus in peak hours. Which is probably why you always find me at the bus stations minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. More time waiting for the bus = more reading time.

One of the reasons why I love the series so much is the fact that it gives you a very realistic feel of the world. It’s crude, it’s real, and it’s full of complex characters that actually feel human. There’s nothing romantic about Martin’s knights. They bleed like everyone else, drink like most, and smell rotten after a week in prison. On the other hand, I can’t really say I know Aragorn that well.

And there is a particularly interest aspect in the books for me: the slowness of communication and how utterly unaware most characters are about what’s going on in the rest of the world. They don’t have Twitter to cover the latest rumors about the dragons from across the sea. They don’t have paparazzi following queen Cersei around King’s Landing. They can’t make threats to distant foes in a blink of an eye through SMS or email. They don’t have people making “King Joffrey totally looks like his uncle Jaime” posters on meme sites.

No, in a world where ravens and messengers on horses are the main tools for distance communication, information becomes valuable. If you’re good at gathering and distributing information, you can earn yourself a high place at the court, like the eunuch Varys. Messages take a long time to travel, and there are no read receipts. You can’t really be sure that the raven you sent hasn’t been shot down by an archer in training or worse, fallen into the wrong hands.

You’d think the consequences of this would be devastating. In truth? Eh, sure, having more intel would speed up the game of thrones, but most folk just couldn’t care less. At least nobody wastes their every waking moment obsessing about getting all the news and gossip. If a raven makes it to your place, you get news from a distant place. But most days, you don’t, so you’re forced to deal with people around you. And you can just get along with your life without the fear of missing out on something important.

And because the cost of sending information is so high (you have to have a trained bird and time to spare), there’s a special art in writing your letters. You can’t afford to send a “u there?” to the other side of the continent. Quills are almost as powerful as swords, and you have to think carefully about what and how you want to write. A simple mistake or misunderstanding could have tragic consequences and you can’t make it right with a simple “Sorry, damn autocorrect!” SMS.

Compare that to our hyper connected world. In some ways, it is a true blessing. Information can flow freely, dictators have a harder time holding onto their iron thrones, we can create new content from people around the world. However, as it is in our nature, we don’t always use the tools at hand for good. We use Twitter to complain about insignificant things nobody cares about, we use our high-tech cameras to document the food we eat (guilty as charged!), but most tragically, we live in constant fear of missing out, so we keep reaching out to others, demanding attention. NOW!

Email is often the biggest offender. It’s so easy to write an email, it made us all more sloppy at what we do. We’re less careful about our work, because in the back of our mind we know that others will soon drop us an email if we forget to do something. We are less confident about our work because we’re always coordinating stuff, waiting for the boss’ blessing. We are constantly scrutinized, every little mistake amplified to absurdity. A great example: Apple Maps. Technology sure is a wonderful thing, but we’ve come to expect too much of it sometimes. Yeah, I hear ya, pushing boundaries is great and all, but what if we just all took a deep breath and looked around at the big picture.

That’s why I’m really starting to like this new, radical idea of no after-hours emails *gasp* Back to the basics. The world isn’t going to end if you don’t see that email right now. We all need time to recharge, time for ourselves when we aren’t thinking about what we have to do next and how to please everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I do love what I’m doing (most days), always searching for news, trends, creating something new. But I’m truly happy when I can focus on one thing. When I can get lost in the flow of the moment without interruptions. Getting lost in a good book or writing my own story so intently that I forget to eat and sleep, going on a Sunday long run, making a cat happy and purring while he warms my lap or shoulder, getting lost in my husband’s arms or smile. Those are the moments I treasure the most, not the moments of “waiting for the important email”.

I’m not saying we should just go back to middle ages, riding horses instead of cars (although that would be a pretty sweet thing!), fighting each other over stupid titles and lands, throwing all our wonderful tech away. No, I couldn’t do that to Siri. But perhaps we should think more about the value of communication, information. Make emails more valuable, not just these annoying nudges in our ribs. If you’re getting nudged often enough, you’ll eventually end up bruised or worse, with a broken rib.

But perhaps we could bring back the ravens (not necessarily in physical form) for some of the things we do. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to get a raven with a general outline of what you have to do, and then you’d have to figure out how to do it without asking for more instructions or constant feedback? Sure, feedback is great, but email only gives you feedback from you loyal small council, which, more often than not, has no perspective on the lives of the smallfolk, yet is full of conflicting self-centered interests.

Why don’t we put more emphasis on getting out of the door, out of the office, wander the village asking for help? Maybe join a coworking space and get feedback from people from other industries outside your own bubble. I suspect we might end up with better ideas this way.

I say, let’s bring back value to exchanging information, don’t treat it like a commodity. Maybe imagine a poor raven flying out whenever you press that Send button. Does the Raven really have to fly for what you have to say? Will more ravens be required to fly back and forth because you’ve spent too little time writing your message? Or maybe we’d just be better off with a meeting over beer/coffee/tea (and cake)?

Yeah, it might just be that I’ve been reading too much fantasy lately and that is why my head is filled with ravens. Still, I do think we can an should be kinder to each other. Focus less on making noise and more on creating value.

P.S.: All images property of HBO. Please don’t sue me, I’m just a humble (unpaid) blogger.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2012/10/forget-email-send-me-raven.html