Friday, August 26, 2005

Speaking in Ignorance (of Audience and Context)

I now know how my students feel. In my field, student writing is often criticized for being poorly thought out. I believe bad communication is more the fault of ignorance about the situation in which it will be used. And students, through the mere fault of being young and inexperienced, are often ignorant of the contexts in which writing occurs. This happened to me yesterday with my voicemail.

I'm a brand-new faculty member at DePaul University. Yesterday, I tried to set up my voice mail. It's been years since I had a real job, let alone voicemail; and setting it up is quite different from setting up one's answering machine at home. It was the task of making three separate recordings that put me in my students' place.

  1. record your name
  2. record a message for external calls (coming from outside of DePaul)
  3. record a message for internal calls (coming from within DePaul)

The problem was, other than #1, I had no idea how these recordings *ought* to differ, because it's been so long since I used or experienced voicemail in this way, that I had no idea of audience expectations or contexts. I had to *guess* what would be useful for these two different audiences. And I don't know when my recorded name gets invoked either. So here were my best guesses:

  1. "Shaun Slattery" (I had the option of also stating the extension number. I decided against it, but don't know if that was a good or bad decision.)
  2. "This is Shaun Slattery at DePaul University; I can't take your call right now. Please leave a message and I'll get back to you."
  3. "This is Shaun Slattery in the Department of English. Please leave a message and I'll call you back."

Are these sufficiently distinguished for internal and external calls? Do they provide information useful to those two audiences? No. Idea. Whatsoever.

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