Saturday, November 19, 2016

Get it in Writing

In my days of having a proper job, as a claims clerk in the insurance industry, we were encouraged all the time to get things confirmed in writing and to confirm any offers we made in writing. Writing was important. Although verbal contracts do exist and are legal, they are easily backed away from and it becomes one word against another in the absence of witnesses. Getting it in writing provided firmer evidence of a deal done.

We offer you £250 in full and final settlement of all claims for personal injury arising out of this accident. This offer is made without any admission of negligence on the part of our client. Please indicate your acceptance in writing and we will send you a cheque.

See. I can still recite it today. Sums of money have advanced a bit and cheques are antiquated but the principle remains.

In those early days as a house-owner I was introduced to the shady area of cash transactions.

Me: How much to fix the front gutter?
Builder: £90 should cover it.
Me: Can I have a written quote?
Builder: Ah. Then it will be plus VAT.

It is strange how our relationship with writing has changed. Because social media is writing or, at least, typing. A comment we might have made tongue-in-cheek, or in an offhand way down the pub is suddenly in writing. Or is it? Is that how people see it.

A few years back an irritated traveller tweeted, after appalling delays at Nottingham Airport, that he was off to blow it up. He was arrested and it took a while for a wise judge (on appeal, I recall) to see that he had been joking.

I really don't think that a lot of people see their social media outbursts as 'in writing'. Just as a young family member once told me that someone wasn't a friend but a Facebook friend (clearly having a difference in their head between the two types), I think that there needs to be a new word for posting, tweeting and updating that stops short of this being something that is being clarified 'in writing'.

You only have to look at the long string of appalling and abusive comments on certain celebrity posts to see that people seem genuinely not to have noticed that the person the subject of their opprobrium is actually listening/reading. I follow Gary Lineker on Twitter. He seems an interested and interesting character. He is not especially rude or crude and does not restrict his comments to the world of sport. People respond shamefully. By and large he reacts modestly. This exchange of views/insults reads like a conversation, albeit one with the drunk in the pub or the nutter on the bus.

And the trouble with writing is that it is not open to discussion who said what to whom. The evidence is there. This doesn't seem to dissuade the trumps of this world from saying 'I never said that'.

A few years ago I carried around a quote from Anita Roddick (her of the Bodyshop business). She said that ideas have wings. As soon as you pin them down they fail to fly. So she operated an ideas culture that didn't pin things down to paper plans too soon. Better paper planes in the air. Keep talking.

I like being part of a church where we all talk about everything all the time. Nobody is too insignificant to contribute to vision or strategy. All views can be shared and we are slow to minute them. We try to have as few secrets as possible. In this context a social media discussion has no more weight than a chat over coffee. And no less either.

That will be £50 please. For cash.

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