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Roach’s Rules for Digital Communication


By Thomas J. Roach

In the industrial age we had Murphy and his Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Of course, stuff was made out of wood and metal. It broke and rusted and bent and eventually stopped working. In the age of digital communication we have the opposite problem.

Stuff doesn’t stop. It keeps coming, it accumulates, and it wears you out. I have a few rules for digital survival.

Email, Facebook and LinkedIn all seemed like wonderful innovations. People I thought I would never see again are now part of my life once more. Social media made it easy for us to find one another, let us send messages without punctuation, and delivered the messages for free. I now have thousands of new old friends and therein lies the problem.

The first few contacts were a pleasant surprise, but now they are a tremendous burden. Hundreds of people wish me happy birthday or like my vacation photos, and I feel like I have to respond and remember their birthdays and like their vacations photos. Who has time?

Roach’s Rule Number One: Programs that save time sap time. That’s because we don’t use the time we saved to go to the beach; we use it to do more work. I got my first camera around 1960 and probably took less than a thousand photos over the next 40 years.

In 2000, I bought my first digital camera and eventually started processing my own photos using PhotoShop and LightRoom. No more expensive film and wasting time waiting for photos to appear under the orange glow of a darkroom light. Now I have two 65-GB SD cards for my digital camera, and every shot is free. I can upload and view my photos on my computer in seconds.

The problem is that in the last 14 years I have accumulated over a quarter million photos on five disc drives. Producing prints isn’t fun and relaxing any more. It’s work.

Roach’s Rule Number Two: Everything private is public. This is especially true if you send the private message as a text message or an email. Remember the old warning about secrets? Everybody tells at least one other person and pretty soon everyone knows?

Now everyone can send a copy of your actual message to just one person, and they don’t have to wait until they run into one another, they can share the information in an instant. Plus, digital is forever. There are data banks saving everything that goes through the web. Forget about running for president.

Roach’s Rule Number Three: “We won’t use your email for promotional materials” is a lie. “We won’t use your email to target ads” is a lie. “We will not sell our email database” is a lie. It’s all lies.

Once you give out your email address it can go anywhere. The person who promises to keep it a secret may believe what he or she is saying, but what about all the other people in the company whom you haven’t met? Can you trust them? Can you trust the people who replace them when they quit? Can you trust the company that will buy their company?

The lawyers who take over when the company is bankrupt and goes into receivership? No. No. No. Everyone needs a secret identity. Set up an email just for filling in forms: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and only check it when necessary.

Roach’s Rule Number Four: “We won’t use your phone number for promotional purposes.” See Rule Number Three.

Roach’s Rule Number Five: Talk to strangers but not their machines. Automated phone answering and messaging systems save companies a lot of time and money, and they are a time consuming, expensive burden on the rest of us.

If they called you, just hang up. Really, can you remember a time when you were glad you listened to a recorded message? If you called them, press zero. No need to listen to five routing options. Hit zero. Almost all systems are programed to take you to a live person on zero as a last option.

Why wait?