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(With apologies to John Lennon & Paul McCartney, to the tune of A Day in the Life)

I saw a note today, oh boy…
the author’s writing, it was horrible.
And though the note looked rather sad,
well I just had to laugh;
it’s just another gaffe.

No one seems to care any more about literacy, and boy does it make me Always Grumpy! Here’s what that note looked like:

Hi,

I have updated the [current] report on our [uncapitalized name of a trademarked service shown as two words in lower case that should be one word intercapped]. Anyone whom has [access] should able to view the report. This is the base line report for new server build plus database and major middle ware. If you found any discrepancies, please let me know. Next quarterly meeting will be [next quarter]. Thanks.

We have demo the currency dashboard on the […] quarterly meeting. I have open up to the public on the link below. It base on the data from [some services] (data is one day behind). You can find info regard to all the […] infrastructure software and also hardware and network device manage by […]. Explore on your leisure and if you have any feedback or question; send it to me. Note it take about 5 minute to load all the data due to many customization and category. This is a [all-caps name of the same service mentioned above, this time as one word] base report. As I mention on the meeting, some EOS are missing or may have discrepancies, this data is loaded by the tool’s team from the vendor feed…

And on it went, with no improvement. Obviously I have edited this for confidentiality. But [aside from what you see in square brackets] it’s all original and unredacted. Ideally you can’t tell where it came from… and if you think it came from a friend who managed to stop laughing (crying, gnashing teeth, banging head on keyboard) long enough to forward it along, or from one of my two current jobs, or from one of the several organizations I volunteer with, you may or may not be right. What I can tell you for sure is that this appears to have been sent out intentionally, by a senior person who expects to be taken seriously. Really? I was so engrossed with the mess that I barely remembered to look for the content. I counted six or seven errors in the first short paragraph above, and it’s the better of the two! It may seem unfair to include contextual and syntactical mistakes along with typographical and grammatical errors: call me A Little Picky. Hey look, it’s a new dwarf!

Could I understand the message? Yes. Was there any significant miscommunication? I don’t think so. So this is far from the worst piece of garbage I have received as a poor excuse for communication, but it’s among the strongest in illustrating the potential consequences of not caring about literacy. Yay, author! Whoever sent it does not prioritize correctness in their written work. Either they can’t be bothered to proof-read or they can’t tell the difference between this and correct current written English. I can’t imagine why they’d think anyone would expect a higher standard than this from any of their other work… but this kind of trash seems to be becoming more and more acceptable in business as well as social settings. As much as I think the poor quality of the English is deplorable, I’m more concerned about what this says about the quality of our work in general. Here’s why: if I were to point out this kind of quality issue in a work or volunteer setting, I’d fully expect to be castigated as too picky. I’d expect my concern for quality to be drowned out by people saying it doesn’t matter “as long as we understand.” To adapt a modern phrase, I’d be “chilled” from pointing out the errors, and the crap would probably stand without correction. In this case, more by luck than by planning, that’s ugly but OK. Problem is, how do you know when the errors are confusing the intended content? Do we really think the author carefully edited this work to ensure clarity of meaning while not worrying about typos etc? I doubt it, and so do you! When I say that I suspect this is symptomatic of modern society, I know I sound like any of many similar complaints that have been chiselled, scribed, typed and data-entried down the ages. So maybe this is just another disappointing manifestation of human nature, made more obvious by instantaneous communications just like so many other phenomena like, for example, violent crime. Maybe I’m just a wailing granny; maybe this apparently modern lack of concern about quality is just over-reported in our connected world.

Do we care so much about speed and purported efficiency that we’re willing to sacrifice quality and accuracy? Sadly, it would seem so. Have we always? (Sigh.) I guess, probably, yes.

Next on my reading list: Thinking Fast & Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. I don’t know if it will help raise me out of my despondency…

Jonathan Gladstone is alwaysgrumpy at jbglad59.ca@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @jbglad59.

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