I was walking for coffee on a minus-11-degree morning when I felt my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled off my outer mitten, dug out my phone and saw a text from my wife, who was out running errands.
"We'll host dinner for our group before the Guthrie on Saturday."
Annoyed with myself for not having worn my thin texting gloves under my mittens, I used my teeth to yank off my inner glove. I tapped the microphone icon with my bare finger and dictated a response. I could have waited until I was comfortably settled at a warm table inside the coffee shop, but I gave in to an odd impulse to respond immediately.
"K period," I said in a loud voice. "On my way to Sovereign Grounds period," which appeared on my screen as "K. On my way to solving grounds." Then I said, "Meet me there for coffee question mark."
My fingers were freezing, so I didn't bother changing "solving grounds" to "Sovereign Grounds," the name of the coffee shop where I was heading. My wife would know what I meant.
Too late, I noticed I was only one of several recipients. Before I could decide whether to send a clarification, my phone vibrated in my hand.
"Sounds great," one of our friends had texted. "I hope you find a solution."
I sound like a dope, I thought, so I tapped the microphone icon again and said, "Sorry. I'm meeting Debbie for coffee at," and then with numb fingers I typed "Soverign Gounds."
I was about to correct the misspelling of "Soverign" to "Sovereign" when my trembling index finger hovered too close to the send icon and off went my unfinished message to its multiple recipients. I groaned, realizing I was only digging a deeper hole. If I had waited two minutes and responded from the coffee shop, I probably would have noticed I wasn't the only recipient. I certainly would not have misspelled "Sovereign."
A few weeks earlier I was having lunch with a retired professor. We were talking about how technology had changed our lives when he said, "The main thing I've noticed in student writing over the past 20 years is a lack of sequencing. When I went to high school, we learned linear thinking, to link one thought to the next and to develop our arguments logically. But that's not how computers encourage us to work. They invite us to think by association."
As I sipped my coffee at Sovereign Grounds, my brain flitted from one thought to another. I thought about skiing the Birkie trail, where I had seen the Edina High School Nordic ski team, which has more than 190 team members this year. I like their coach Andy Turnbull, whom I know from Hoigaard's — he sells me replacement poles on a somewhat regular basis and once told me, "Steve, when you fall, protect your equipment; your body will heal" — actually, I'm not certain he's the one who said that, but it sounds like something one Nordic skier would say to another. And then my phone vibrated.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.