It’s really not unusual to find people crying in the ladies room at work. Often it has to do with boyfriends, football pools or American Idol. But sometimes it has to do with a truly nasty day at work. A day full of stupid questions, wasted effort and the profound feeling that no matter what you do nobody is really listening to you.
Such was the issue of the lady sniffling away in the stall next to mine the other day. It turns out she has sent the same information to the same group of people half a dozen times and was being publicly flogged for her failure to communicate. “Nobody fuc*ing reads anymore,” she wailed. “If they’d just fu*king read their fu*king email they’d know the fu*king answer to the fu*king question. How fu*king hard is that?”
At the risk of seeming insensitive, what did she fu*king expect?
Nobody reads stuff. They never have. This isn’t some side-effect of information overload and diminishing attention spans; it’s basic human laziness. I’m old enough to remember when information was disseminated on paper with big black paperclips. And even when it showed up on a laid linen 50lb stock in a lovely pocket folder, they didn’t read it. If you put a user guide in the box, they won’t read it. If you post an FAQ on your website, they won’t read it. If you present your sales strategy as a graphic novel, they won’t read it. If you tattoo the URL on their left buttock, they won’t (or maybe can’t) read it. If you tape your HR update to the wall above a urinal, they still won’t read it.
They won’t read it because, for the most part, they really don’t have to. They don’t have to because they can get away with not reading it. Didn’t read the instructions? Call the technical support centre. Didn’t read your itinerary? Email your travel agent? Didn’t read the contract? Ask the legal department. Didn’t read the new product brief? Text the product manager 800 times with your questions.
It’s not logical. It’s not, in the grand scheme of things, productive, but it is easy and most people are all about easy. Bottom line: people don’t read things, and you probably can’t make them. All the tears, sarcastic emails, stony silences and PowerPoint decks in the world won’t change it.
I prefer, for sanity’s sake, to focus on the one or two percent of people who will read what I produce. I don’t pretend they do it for any reason more noble than they had no choice but I do try to deliver content that respects their time and rewards their effort with quality information, presented in a concise and compelling way.
As for the rest who don’t want to read things, fu*k ‘em.