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Bahrain – Email At Your Peril!

April 6, 2013

I have a message to the exalted Ministers of Bahrain who are being urged by their Crown Prince to use email in their communications with each other: don’t do it!

That’s a joke, of course. I am not encouraging the top echelon of government to disobey the Crown Prince, who is a man for whom I have great respect, especially as he seems to be providing a welcome injection of energy and imagination into government following his recent appointment as Deputy Prime Minister.

So before somebody knocks on my door and accuses me of lèse-majesté, I should change my advice to: “proceed with caution”.

I’m commenting a story that appeared in the Gulf Daily News this morning: A new era…. The paper opened the story with this line:

“Government ministers have been urged to usher in a new era by embracing creative and innovative ideas.”

It then went on to talk about the Crown Prince promoting the use of email within government, particularly as a means of following up on the implementation of government decisions.

Email equates to creativity and innovation? Not according to fellow blogger Dark Red Hat, who believes that it is the productivity scourge of the age. I quote from Kontent is King:

“Email is the most used, abused, productivity-stifling, time-wasting and pernicious invention of the 20th century. It’s the giant hogweed of the workplace. Far from helping us communicate more effectively in our work and social lives, it’s a massive distraction, and an ideal platform for fraudsters, office politicians, axe-grinders, bores, arse-coverers, show-offs and narcissists.

Rather like Facebook, in fact. At least you can turn Facebook off. But you ignore your email at your peril, even though you have to wade through gigabytes of kontent to reach the few messages that are actually relevant to you.

So think of this. Let’s say there are a billion email users in the world today – equal to the number of Facebook users. If each user sends one less email a day for a year, and if that email takes ten minutes to write and ten minutes to read, that would be 333 million hours a year of human time freed up to do other stuff. Every internet user on the planet would save 12 days a year. Time they could use to talk to people, make things, leave work early, read a book, run round the block. Or simply think.

The only trouble is, most people would probably use the extra time on Facebook. Kontent is an addiction we can mitigate but never cure, it seems.”

Politicians are being urged across the world to “get modern”. The most unlikely people are opening Twitter accounts – Pope Emeritus Benedict, for example. But I suspect that the high and mighty are far too busy to spend time trawling Twitter or composing pithy 140 character nuggets of wisdom. Generally, the exalted don’t do pithy – they get their flunkies to do it for them.

And so it is with email. On the odd occasion when I have found myself in the office of an exalted person in the Middle East, I usually see a computer screen, but no keyboard. This is for the simple reason that many such people don’t write and read email – at least not in electronic form. Again, they have a flunkey to act as a gatekeeper. The servant will screen email, draft messages for the master’s approval and pass him printed copies of incoming mail. Not, I hasten to add, the ones trying to sell plastic surgery or hot dates – and I’m not talking about Bahrain’s most delicious food.

So I’m sure the Crown Prince is not proposing that Ministers get close and personal with their laptops and actually start writing emails themselves, though I’m sure that’s what he’s been doing for decades, being a thoroughly modern man. If they did, they would risk exposing themselves to all the rubbish that Dark Red Hat refers to as Kontent, and that could be a serious drain on their productivity. Less time for meetings, speeches, conferences and opening ceremonies.

Seriously, I think I fully understand what the Crown Prince is trying to do. He’s trying to cut through the impenetrably tangled remnants of British-Indian, Ottoman or Egyptian bureaucracies that still plague the governments of most Gulf countries. Less faxes. flunkies, decorous rubber stamps, middle men and paper obfuscation; more action and results.

Unfortunately the Gulf Daily News did him a disservice by referring to email as an example of innovation and creativity. He’s no fuddy-duddy, and he will know well that it will take much more than dragging a few ministers to the keyboard to help government get to the point at which reality matches the rhetoric.

Fortunately, there are plenty of talented and creative people in Bahrain who would deliver innovation if given the chance. People full of what the Prime Minster in the same article described as “ambitious and youthful visions”.
I’m sure that given the chance, the Crown Prince will give them the chance.

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