Missing Message?

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Lost Message? a reader asks…

Hey Chris, I’ve been having trouble lately, in that sometimes people aren’t getting my messages. Sometimes it’s a lost facebook private message, sometimes a lost email, sometimes a text that never got delivered. Is there something going on that I should be worried about?

I don’t think there’s anything new, but I do think you’re starting to experience the effects of communication overload. If it was only one communication channel, I might explore problems with that particular channel, but you cite problems with several channels. Reality check: none of these communication channels ever gave you a delivery guarantee. So I’m thinking your only option is to adjust your expectations.

As our communication channels have expanded, we’re increasingly bombarded by messages from a variety of sources (e.g., channels). Back in the old days (hah!) all we had was the telephone, telegram and mailed letters. Now we’ve added multiple numbers each with voicemail, multiple text messaging options and apps, multiple social networking messaging (both private messages and status updates), multiple email accounts, and more. It’s hard to keep track of which channel you used for which communication, and each channel has its own quirks and issues that affect successful delivery.

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If you stop to consider, many (most?) of these channels you use without paying anything directly to the provider. Snapchat, Facebook, Gmail, and so many more have no direct fee, and yet we all expect them to work perfectly for us. Email service was never designed with any kind of delivery verification, and we still use that same antiquated system. We are expecting perfection out of our digital devices and services, and frustrated that they don’t deliver. Short answer, we need to lower our expectations.

Examine the terms of service for virtually any type of communication medium from telephone to US Post Office to the latest technology and you’ll see that delivery is never guaranteed. But because we enjoy a 99% success rate, we get mad when that pesky 1% hits us in the face.

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For Facebook, I previously published an article and video talking about their dumb hidden messages ‘feature’. Facebook shunts some messages into an “other” mailbox, and you have to go looking for that. Hint: it’s now on the left-side of your news feed. Most folks look for the top message indicator to tell them when they have unread messages, but that indicator (with a red rectangle and a white number in it) only tells you about messages in your main inbox, nothing about your ‘other’ inbox. So it’s possible that a facebook private message you sent someone got tossed into that other inbox and they just didn’t see it. Or they got notification of perhaps a dozen messages, clicked the indicator to make it go away, and never scrolled down the message list to see yours.

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For email, delivery has never been guaranteed by anyone – any more than verification of sender’s identity. Emails are broken into little bits (‘packets’) and each packet is sent to the destination for re-assembly – assuming all the bits made it through. It’s amazing that it works as well as it does, given the billions of messages sent daily (most of them spam), and the many different paths through the internet that each packet can take. Plus, everyone from your internet service provider to yourself is trying to stop spam, and spam-catching isn’t a perfect science either. So your email might have been improperly routed to the junk folder. And not everyone deals with email the way you do – some people may only check email once a week. Or your message is buried in their inbox with thousands of others, all unread because they’re overloaded with email. And finally, email was never designed for instant communication, that’s what the phone and text messaging are for.

Speaking of text messaging, the problem here is that anyone can turn their phone off and be unavailable. Or the phone can be silenced so text messages may arrive but won’t notify the recipient.

Let me bring up one other factor: the recipient may simply not want to admit they received the message. We all have reasons for not wanting to do so, maybe embarrassment or we don’t want to deal with the issue you brought up. So we claim we didn’t get the message. Similar to ‘the-check-is-in-the-mail’ type of response to a bill collector.

So to wrap this up, there’s not much you can do about this except to re-send your message, or try a different channel. Here’s my personal priority list of what communication channel to use for what type of communication:

  1. facebookvidchatFace-to-face: for when you absolutely need to know who you’re talking to
  2. Video Chat: same as above
  3. Telephone: for emergency and critical time-sensitive communications where you need to make sure your message was received.
  4. Text Message: for time-sensitive communications. Unless you get a reply, don’t assume it was delivered.
  5. Other text messaging (Snapchat, Whatsapp, WeChat, Line, etc.: for any communications you want, unless you get a reply, don’t assume it was delivered.
  6. Email: for general communication where time is not an issue. Unless you get a reply, don’t assume it was delivered or read, even if you used that silly ‘read receipt’ feature (doesn’t work across all systems).
  7. Fax: only if none of the above are available, for time-sensitive communications, and if you’re stuck in the last century (just kidding). Don’t assume it was received unless you get independent confirmation from the recipient.
  8. US Postal mail: if none of the above are available.

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