PROFESSIONAL E-MAIL NEEDS ATTENTION
PROFESSIONAL E-MAIL NEEDS ATTENTION
Meg Ryan: You've got mail. Tom Hanks: Those are very powerful words.
--Movie, You've Got Mail
When you write an e-mail, you are, in effect, creating a memo with all the memo components. Often, you see differences in the format of document. For example, in Pine Mail, you notice that the "To" line, "From," and the "Subject" line are included. You may also notice the "cc" and "Attachments section of the e-mail format. "Cc" means someone else is allowed to read your e-mail message. You have copied someone else. The "attachments" means you have enclosed with the e-mail a form, some document, or something else related to the e-mail message. You have to place your full name after the last line of the memo. You do that operation, because the person receiving your e-mail may not be able to make out a code, such as "hfbac7007," that has little meaning. Your "Subject" line should be written as a talking caption to capture the attention of your reader who is scanning hundreds of e-mail messages and deciding which ones to view first.
At the beginning of your e-mail, always address the person by name followed by a comma. For example, you say: Dr. Jay, this memo concerns . . . Jane or Harry, in your last memo you mentioned . . Make sure that you weigh your words carefully in sending an e-mail. Once an e-mail is sent, it can never be brought back. If necessary, proofread two or three times before actually sending the e-mail. Do not put anything on e-mail that you don't want found on the front page of the newspaper for all to see.
People tend to think they can place anything on e-mail. Errors are unimportant; it is the strength of the message that counts. Be careful. If you use four-letter words or extreme sarcasm, you may be accused of "flaming." Flaming is to be avoided at all costs. Your words live long after you, and someone may call you to account. Never say anything you do not want to appear on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Even a strongly worded statement could be interpreted as an attempt to "flame." Think about what you want to say before you send that message into cyberspace.
You write on the e-mail the following statements:
Did you notice in the meeting yesterday how the boss made that stupid remark about the department being reorganized? You would think anyone with his/her years of education would be a little more careful. To think we have to work for a company that hires such incompetent individuals.
You have just read flaming. You could expect, at the least, to be reprimanded for your insensitive remarks. At the worst, you could be brought up on charges of incompetence and perhaps fired from your position. Flaming is to be avoided at all costs in writing and sending e-mail. You never know who else will read your correspondence. The company has every right to read your e-mail, and courts are continuing to uphold the organization's right to look at all your e-mail. The company, after all, pays your salary and pays for the use of your computer equipment.
Two important books I have found helpful in understanding e-mail include:
Angell, David, and Heslop, Brent. The Elements of E-Mail Style:
Communicate Effectively via Electronic Mail.
Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1994.
Rose, Donald (Dr.). Minding Your Cyber-Manners
on the Internet. Indianapolis, Indiana: Alpha Books, 1994.
The first book became apparent when I gave you a list in the syllabus of steps in doing proper e-mail. The second book, the Rose book, gives you some tidbits, such as the following:
- Be specific, yet not overly wordy, in subject lines.
- Pay attention to what you say-it makes you who you are on the net.
- Don't post others' e-mail without permission.
- Separate opinion from non-opinion, and clearly label each.
- Honor requests for "e-mail only" replies.
- Take time to edit messages into a form that contains the essential information.
Phishing, in lay person's terms, means someone is lurking around your e-mail to find your files and read your messages. Have you had the experience of having your bank or your university write you and say your bank statements or your university mail will not work after a certain time? Immediately, you panic as a user and think part of your life is going away. Instead of panicking you should step back and ask: Shouldn't I call my bank or university and inquire whether they sent a bogus e-mail? That is the answer, and the second part of the answer is to ignore anything not directly sent to you by the respective institution. Also, take a look at the "To" line to see if it says something like "undisclosed recipients." That is a tipoff about whether you have experienced a phishing expedition.
When you check this link on e-mail assistance, you will find help from the U.S. Government about a style manual for e-mail. You will find assistance for working with Pine Mail on the pine mail style link. If you are interested in some emoticons (special symbols to sign e-mail) and hints on improving e-mail, look up the smileys and e-mail hints or extra hints .
The American Management Association, one of the most prestigious professional organizations in the country, has recently published a style manual, The AMA Style Guide for Business Writing, as part of its continuing publications program. In it several pages are devoted to guidelines for using e-mail:
- Document communications decisions (just like a memo for the record)
- Don't overlook the need for face-to-face meetings.
- Design messages according to the situation.
- Write topic lines correctly.
The topic line (subject line) should briefly and clearly state what the message contains.
The topic line should get the reader's attention and interest.
- Remember the basics of good communication.
Consider the requirements of good style.
- Edit prior to transmission.
Joe Vitale has written a provocative book called Cyber Writing: How to Promote Your Product or Service Online (Without Being Flamed). Mr. Vitale talks about how cyberspace is an entirely new medium. We have to remember the cold letter we place in cyberspace may not have the same meaning to the receiver as we intended. Vitale calls this phenomenon, "Ambiguity of Intention." The cold letters we write in cyberspace may communicate the worst because of the words chosen and arranged on the page. We can't just write anymore. We have to communicate in cyberspace. Vitale compares the Captain Kirk message of "Do No Harm" to his message of "Write in Kindness."
David Owens, an Associate Professor of Management at Vanderbilt University, has raised some fascinating questions about what level of management more effectively handles e-mail (Bruce Headlam, "How to E-mail Like a C.E.O.," The New York Times Magazine, Section 6, 8 April 2001, pp. 7-8). Owens analyzed a research firm in California for a year, studying the employees, attending meetings, and interviewing employees. Everyone had the same job title; internal communications took place electronically. Owens, according to Headlam, looked at some 30,000 e-mail messages sent within the company over four years.
Here are the questions we should ask: Did higher level or status employees send better e-mails? Did middle status employees get to the point to save their bosses time? Owens concluded high-status employees send short, curt messages, conveying their own authority. Midstatus employees produce long, argumentative messages with jargon and overexplained (overexplicated) thoughts. Owens offered the following example:
"I vote for the March date, since it seems to me that a smaller, earlier, more focused meeting is better at this preliminary stage."
Owens noted senior managers take the longest time to reply to e-mail messages. They write the individual personally, avoiding the ListServe type of message. It is worth noting bosses tend to "have the poorest spelling and worst grammar." That kind of message suggests to the employees the boss has better things to do with his or her time. The issues are clear. E-mail has made everyone more accessible. The in-box dread, as Headlam calls it, faces us every morning. The e-mail glut is not going away with an estimated 6.1 billion messages sent daily. Do all these messages need to be opened, read, and answered? Furthermore, E-mail has changed the social relationships we experience in the office.
We must draw some wisdom from this latest research study. I take particular umbrage at the suggestion syntax and the construction of sentences are not important. It helps our e-mail message if the words and the punctuation are uniformly understood. Headlam rightly quotes The Complete Idiot's Guide to Office Politics on the importance of business communication: "A business communication is business, period. As a result a certain degree of formality is required. Just because e-mail tends to be more immediate and personable, it can't be casual. Business e-mail must be businesslike."
People new to e-mail tend to shout or write everything in capital letters. That is shouting at the person receiving the e-mail. We would not say: "TONY, ON YOUR LAST PROPOSAL YOU MENTIONED THAT THE FIGURE FOR . . ." No one wants to read such blatant attempts to look important on the computer screen. I allow you to write your subject line in all capital letters, because that method draws attention to the importance of your memo. However, one of my computer friends insists I never write all capital letters in the subject lines to him. When in doubt, do not shout. Use capital and small letters for the content of your e-mails.
Nothing becomes more disconcerting in reading an e-mail than seeing few, if any paragraphs. The reader is forced to look at a mass of information on the computer screen. Even if you don't think you need to paragraph, try short paragraphs. It relieves the eyes and makes the reader kinder toward your message. I have often seen 10 or more lines of type with no attempt at paragraphing. Even a one-sentence paragraph after the first paragraph relieves the heaviness. Make your reader want to look at your e-mail.
When you are trying to underline a book or a title of something, use an underline before_ the phrase_ and an underline after the phrase. That way you will tell your reader how intelligently you understand the differences in communicating with e-mail.
FOURTH BONUS QUESTION FOR WEEK 14
Suppose you are reading a report and your come across the following piece of information: "Johnson Symthe commented: 'We expect employees to be dry behind the ears. They should be able to find information rather than expecting the information to be given to them.'" You note that this information occurred as part of the Considerations. What is incorrect about the reporting of the information and the way the quotation was handled?
How would you like to receive an e-mail message that starts "I love you"? Wouldn't you want to open that e-mail and see the kind person who sent it to you? That was the dilemma facing Ford Motor Company worldwide. With 30,000 workers in Europe alone and 14 different languages being spoken, Ford suddenly found itself with up to 1,000 computers infected with this rogue software program. Normally, it takes about seven minutes for network administrators to solve this kind of virus, but Ford took at least 20 minutes to find the problem. Then, with considerable overtime on a Thursday night, users could again participate in their e-mail late Friday afternoon ("With Its E-Mail Infected, Ford Scrambled and Caught Up," The New York Times, 8 May 2000, p. 10). Ford employees likened the virus attack to breaking all the windows in the plant. You have to fix the windows, but the production goes on. Some Ford employees were happy to have lost their e-mail and not have to deal with it for a day or so. Over three hours' testing went into writing software to combat the virus.
What is the lesson for business communication? Always check your subject line carefully when beginning to open unsolicited e-mail. For the most part, never open any e-mail that you are not sure where that message originated. It is that old adage: better safe than sorry.
A recent USA Weekend (September 5-7, 1997) featured a series of surveys about people coping in offices with the influx of so much e-mail. Pitney Bowes, a respected office supply firm, found that 71 percent of the workers became overwhelmed by the number of messages they receive at work. Interruptions cause consternation with these workers. Nearly 85 percent of these people reported being interrupted by messages three or four times an hour. Remember when the computer screen says you have incoming mail? The Institute for the Future, which conducted this study, reported managers send and receive 178 messages a day. E-mail is fast catching up with the number one culprit, the telephone. The office tracks you down wherever you are. It is not unusual for me to be sitting in the office with a student, and a beeper goes off during our conversation. That student has mail, in the middle of an important conversation.
What do we do if we want to get some real work done? Computer Associates International in suburban New York shuts down its e-mail system two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon to get real work done. If you are sending most of your e-mails to someone down the hall, perhaps it is time to take a good look at the use of time. David Shenk, author of Data Smog, offers this advice when dealing with e-mail:
The magazine, U.S. News & World Report, recently devoted an entire issue to the worldwide use of e-mail (March 22, 1999). Certain salient points immediately catch our attention. On average, we send 2.2 billion e-mail messages a day. In the postal service we only send 293 million pieces of "snail" mail.
- Think before you e-mail.
- Don't blindly photocopy e-mail to your coworkers.
- Urge your companies to unplug from communication demands altogether for short periods.
As explained throughout this link, we cannot see people face to face when we send e-mail. We cannot see their facial expressions or hear their intonations. Also, much e-mail should not have been sent in the first place. The staff reminded us in the article about the immediacy of e-mail: ". . .the immediacy of the E-mail moment rarely survives printout."
Newsweek magazine has further alerted us (September 20, 1999) about how the Internet, and, especially e-mail, is changing our lives. Did you know that at least 225,000,000 people have access to e-mail? As already explained, not all e-mail is welcomed. If you come back from vacation, as Andrew Leonard, author of "We've Got Mail--Always," (Newsweek, 9-20-99)and discover over 1,200 unanswered messages, you don't become a happy person. When the situation was resolved, only about seven of those messages remained important enough to answer. The essence of e-mail gets down to advantages and disadvantages. E-mail, on the negative side, creates the following disadvantages:
You would think with all those disadvantages people would give up their e-mail accounts. On the positive side, e-mail has changed the way we communicate forever. Andrew Leonard in that same Newsweek article suggested that words have taken over our society when he said: "more people are writing more words than ever before!" Once more, let's take a look at the advantages of e-mail:
- wastes our time
- isolates us in front of computers
- introduces unnecessary complexity into our lives
- creates possibility of corrupting messages
- requires little thought with a stream of consciousness writing
- becomes easy to destroy--erasing of messages accidentally.
You be the judge of whether you like advantages or the disadvantages. All I ask is for us to give more thought to the e-mail we send. We do run the risk, according to Newsweek, of losing the differentiation between work and play. E-mail can demolish all boundaries, geographic and personal.
Consider this possibility. In the Silicon Valley of Northrern California certain companies are realizing they need to increase their employee benefits, especially preventive health care. Therefore, these employees are receiving the capability of communicating directly with their doctors. They can e-mail their doctors questions about their health status; they can set up appointments online. Think of how that eliminates some of the frustration of being putting on hold before the patient can talk to the nurse or a receptionist. (source: Ann Carrns, "Employers Urge Doctors to Make 'Visits' by E-mail," The Wall Street Journal, 23 March 2001, pp. B1, B4).
- flattens hierarchies within the bounds of an office
- serves as a buffer zone for expressing serious thoughts
- enables radically new forms of worldwide human collaboration
- captures the essence of life at the close of the 20th century
- allows us to cope with the accelerating pace of life
- enables us to interact with each other as "pride of place"--that interconnection
- creates a place to debate.
A new application called Healinx is making possible these communication achievements. Companies and HMOs (health maintenance organizations)are finding they can cut some of their medical costs by instituting these e-mail visits. Companies participating in this kind of planning include General Motors Corporation, First Health Group Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, and Aetna, Inc. Web and e-mail visits cost money. Physicians are naturally concerned about payment and the time to answer hundreds of e-mails. In a pilot program started with Healinx Corporation, an Alameda, California, company, doctors' web visits are reimbursed at $20 per visit. In Mid-April, 2001, about 2,000 employees who roughly see 100 doctors in the Silicon Valley will participate in the pilot program.
To create less rambling from the patients seeking diagnoses on e-mail, special kinds of forms are prepared. A questionnaire will be prepared for the Web site. The questionnaire will form the basis for a simple narrative in concise format from the patient. The messages from the patients are encrypted and stored on Healnix's server. As The Wall Street Journal article suggested, the company, Healnix, will a receive a fee from the employer for each patient transaction. How are physicians reacting so far? A recent "Harris Interactive survey found that just 13 percent of all doctors communicate by e-mail with any patients. That percentage has remained stagnant for the last two years." Physicians are also concerned about liability, security, and payment. It will take time, as it does with professors, to answer all that e-mail. Technology is once again visiting the communication process with e-mail.
People are meeting and sometimes getting married with the help of e-mail. They expose themselves with their intimate thoughts by e-mail. These cyber-romances raise questions about people becoming acquainted once they meet. The article raises the question about authentic relationships: "How authentically can people represent themselves through E-mail"? It is no wonder e-mailers rely on emoticons or representations of their feelings, such as smiles. According to the article, you do not possess social cues, such as facial movement, body language, and even dress or handwriting when the cyber-romance occurs through e-mail.
Sherry Turkle in Life on the Screen poses the fascinating possibility people explore when on e-mail. They explore or experiment with their identity online. You never know for sure to whom you are talking on e-mail. That is also true on Internet Relay Chat and the bulletin boards. Turkle offers us hope that people will see e-mail as a positive opportunity for personal growth.
We expect e-mailers to communicate well with words. That does not always happen. Youngsters, especially, may use four-letter letters or made-up words to communicate their messages. You can do a superficial job of communicating by e-mail. I witness everyday students who misspell words and leave weak or lame half sentences as their means of communication. E-mail represents image, and avoiding conceptual thinking on the Internet does not help the communication process. Everything occurs somewhat instanteously.
Back in 1964 I sat in the pleasant atmosphere of a coffee house in Vienna called Damel's. It is well known for its chocolate and specialities. People conversed in those days in an open way. Now the e-mail becomes our coffee house. Starbucks is our example of an American coffee house. What is the point? Professor of Humanities Frederick Turner from the University of Texas believes we are turning the Internet into the coffee houses of Vienna. Certainly, many of the world's major cities have their own Internet cafes where you can communicate by e-mail. The Internet and its attendant e-mail represent risk and opportunity. Any electronic salon, according to the article, has its drawbacks. Do you have enough time for private reflection with e-mail?
When you write a business letter, you do have time for reflection. You can weigh the words before you send them. The person on the other end can see your logo or letterhead and the quality of paper you used. It is a flat screen with e-mail. Think, though, about how writing will be recorded. For centuries we recorded writing on stone tablets, printing presses, and, finally, on dictating machines. Now our writing is recorded on e-mail. That e-mail can be erased, or can it? As Oliver North, assistant to President Reagan, in the Iran-Contra hearings found out, e-mail can be retrieved under certain circumstances. James Atlas, a critic and biographer, believes our writing life will change forever with e-mail: ". . . E-mail is going to change the way the writing life is recorded."
The next question becomes a harder one to answer. How do we preserve all that e-mail? Should we preserve all that e-mail? This records management question needs to be answered. The Federal Government is hard at work at this writing devising guidlines for preserving certain e-mail.
The International Data Corporation, a large think tank, estimates we send 1.1 billion business E-mails per day. If these projections continue, we would be sending 2.8 billion e-mails by the year 2000. All these projections suggest we must learn to control e-mail. Do you need to send to everyone on the mailing list? How often is your e-mail misdirected? I will never forget sending a fax to a large corporation and having it go to 12 fax machines with the same telephone number. The message was carried to Reprographics and the Mail Room, and, at this writing, is still lost in the system. You also have to worry constantly about spamming or junk e-mail. You may not want to hear how to win a trip to Disney World. Do you need to forward every e-mail you receive to all your friends? I enjoy receiving jokes from former students, but if these jokes clogged the necessary e-mail, I would be hard pressed to continue requesting the funny lines.
Lately, I received some ListServe mail from people interested in a certain branch of history. One of the respondents commented she had not heard from many of the listees and wondered if they were asleep. That brings up the issue of people who "lurk and learn." You don't know who is reading your e-mail when you are on a listserv. Anyone can sign up for these e-mail chats, and some of these people may not be legitimate as far as their interests are concerned.
E-mail is also spawning a new list of acronyms for us. You now have people writing e-mail who are either too lazy or too busy to use ordinary words. The article earlier mentioned referred to some of these acronyms:
BCNU: Be seeing you.
As the computer becomes a way of life for all of us, we need to think seriously about how we intend to use this tool. Some people who are lonely just want to use e-mail. Senior citizens should not be daunted by learning how to use e-mail. Those who have learned e-mail now are just as polite as impolite as any other citizen. They make crass or eloquent statements as any other citizen would on e-mail. The key is the senior citizens are a growing segment of our populations who need computer skills the rest of us may already possess. Also, we must not become so obsessed with e-mail that we forget the human relationships we so dearly prize.
When we hear the term, instant messages with e-mail, we immediately think of chat rooms. That is one form of instant message. Most e-mail can be answered at your leisure. Instant messages represents another breed of animal. They demand attention. They interfere with what you are doing. With their speed and ability to be present on your computer screen, they intrude with what else is online. Instant messages appear on the screen as soon as they are sent (Michelle Slatalla, "The Office Meeting That Never Ends," The New York Times, p. D1, September 23, 1999).
BTW: By the way.
GG: Got to go.
IMNSHO: In my not-so-humble opinion
ROFL: Rolling on the floor laughing
TTFN: Ta-ta for now.
k (Teenage acronym): okay.
How do you recognize these cyber-instant messages? They become similar to someone walking into your office unannounced and taking a great deal of your time to chitchat. The question is immediately raised: Do these messages violate the privacy of space and the privacy of what your computer is doing? We think we possess personal space in our offices, but the instant messages soon dispel that belief. Pitney Bowes, the famous mail machine company, released a study about how interruptions and instant messages create patterns of stress. Did you know the typical corporate employee sends and gets 201 messages a day and is interrupted as often as every 10 minutes? The New York Times reported some fascinating statistics about interruptions. In the following table you see the number of workers who report six or more interruptions an hour by instant message and other forms of communication:
Are instant messages, such as ICQ, ever helpful? First, it takes time to learn the new communication medium, namely the instant messaging. Second, you can now reach colleagues who are geographically remote ("The Office Meeting That Never Ends," p. D8). If you have a colleague in South America, for instance, it is much easier to communicate with instant message than leave tons of voicemail. Will instant messaging go away? It is doubtful, because the technology has taken hold of our fancies. It is much harder to dismiss a colleague a few desks away from you on instant messaging.
Are you ever in a quandry whether you should mail e-mail to your company about something you don't like? The California Supreme was recently divided on the issue of property rights or freedom of speech. An employee named Ken Hamidi was fired from Intel Corp. for criticizing the company through e-mail.
It is worth noting that Mr. Hamidi sent Intel anywhere from 8,000 to 35,000 messages after a worker's compensation dispute had caused the firing. Intel obtained a court order enjoining Hamidi from sending any more messages.
The e-mail messages dealt with criticism of the corporation's labor policies. The e-mail, obviously, had become disruptive because of its sheer volume. However, Intel's computer system had neither crashed or slowed because of the e-mail volume. The question remains: Did employee productivity or morale become lower because of the volume e-mail? The lawyer for Intel argued that the e-mail constituted physical trespass. Leaflets could be thrown out on the premises; why not e-mail? The lawyer for Hamidi argued that it would take millions of e-mails to disrupt a computer system. Still, we are left wondering why Intel didn't have an e-mail policy restricting outside e-mail messages. That might have solved the thorny problem. Mr. Hamidi still runs a website devoted to exposing problems at Intel. From the standpoint of business communication, an employee should be warned about flooding company systems with thousands of e-mail. Anyhow, stay tuned to the final court settlement (Maura Dolan, "Justics Appear Split over Intel E-mail Case," Los Angeles Times, pp. B1, B8).
You usually check for viruses on your e-mail. As you know, a good guide is never open any e-mail that is not recognizable. However, a new worry has now entered our thinking. Terrorists like Osama bin Laden are using the e-mail and the web pages to encrypt codes for the latest world targets. Usually, these encrypted targets appear on websites, such as pornography and sports channels. The terrorists argue these sites are the most used and, therefore, susceptible to encryption. Also, certain e-mail sites may now have terrorist messages on them. What is the message? Beware. You may be inadvertently contributing to a site that could be used for targeting terrorism.
We have already seen the boss or your employer can read your e-mail. Are you aware software now exists that allows your employer to see every keystroke you write? Some of these programs, priced as little as $99, allow your employer to note every letter, every comma, every revision, and every flick of the fingertip you make ("Thinking Out Loud: You Assume 'Erase' Wiped Out That Rant Against the Boss? Nope," The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2000, p. A1). Employers can use this new software to find out whether their employees are checking out pornographic sites, preparing personal mail, or playing computer games on company time. After all, the courts reason employers furnish the hardware and software for the employee. The employer should be able to monitor how effectively and productively the employees are performing their jobs. A case in point may explain how pervasive this software has become. The Poplar Grove Airport started monitoring its employees' keystrokes with a program called Silent Watch. One employee was pouring out her heart about goals and opportunities in the aircraft industry for the future. These ramblings, created as a college application, were never sent anywhere, but the supervisor, finally, cautioned the employee about using company time for personal mail. The software was so effective that it caught the word, money, being changed to scholarship.
Keystroke tracers are not something to be taken lightly. More moral companies will warn their employees that keystrokes are being monitored. This Big Brother attitude, at least, lets the employee know the consequence of doing personal business on company time. Some of the software is so sophisticated that pressing an "A" key, for example, will cause a slight surge in the an electrical current in a circuit board below. That scan code eventually translates to "A." The keyboard drive receives the current and tells the monitor to display an "A." (The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2000, p. A16). That tiny time lag stops hackers from encrypting messages. The keystroke is captured before it can be encoded. To return to the Poplar Grove Airport case problem, you may be interested to see the actual keystrokes captured for a college application instead of company business:
On major arirlines and thorouguughly eejoyed traveling. I conitinued my interest as I got older by taking lessons at a local airprorport. As a senior in high school, I obtained my private pilot l;ilicense. I flew at a nearby airpo9rt during uring school hours as an inter work experience. Every wqeek every week I rs to acqui4ere this rating. Through ithis opportunity, I knew that flying was the career I wihshed to pursue. I chose Western Mihciichigan University to further my eduacation in flight flight science. The program wa seemed
Did you notice every error as well as every keystroke was recorded? What do you think now of privacy in the workplace? Do we have problems now with sending e-mail that may place the boss or the company in a bad light?
You may recall when E-mail was conceived as part of the Internet it was intended to have academics communicate with academics. However, the spurt of Internet growth meant people wanted to communicate on E-mail all over the world. An astronomer in Newsweek magazine who works at SETI (Search for Extraterrestials) took the nation to task about the abuse of E-mail. He maintains that at least 10 million Americans pound out correspondence on E-mail. When once the E-mail traffic was manageable, it is no longer manageable.
According to Astronomer Shostak, e-mail does not represent the polite correspondence we come to think of with letters. E-mail becomes aggressive with its built-in, insistent arrogance. Did you answer my e-mail sent you in the last 24 hours? Why not? Missives start flowing back and forth over the Internet. Did you receive my last e-mail? Didn't you get my last e-mail? The days of considered correspondence are rapidly disappearing. What happened to the letter you could ponder before sending a reply? Seth Shostak phrased the dilemma of considered correspondence this way: "This imperative for the immediate makes me yearn for old-style written communication, in which a week might lapse between inquiry and response." Now, similar to instant potatoes or instant puddings, communication has become instantaneous.
E-mail suffers from the problems of prose. Punctuation is omitted. Sentences become harried thoughts without beginnings or endings. Spelling faults occur everywhere. Shostak pours out his suffering by stating: "Of every 10 e-mails I read, nine suffer from major spelling faults, convoluted grammar and a stunning lack of logical organization." He calls these faults "ASCII graffiti."
Think of this issue for a moment. People have become correspondents who would never have placed pen on paper without e-mail. You are a relatively anonymous correspondent when using e-mail. The shy person no longer uses the telephone, if ever. You receive junk e-mail that should not have been sent in the first place. The proliferation of e-mail continues.
You become informed of the move of each of your coworkers. You don't want all that information. Everyone is copied in the organization. It is no wonder you can leave for vacation and come back to your office with 900 e-mails. The brooms of the socerer's apprentice in the Disney film, Fantasia, are unleashed. You can't leave for vacation without taking your laptop to check for e-mails. Shostak phrased the continuing dilemma this way: "A friend recently told me that he can't afford to die: the e-mail would pile up and nobody could handle it."
Will the day come when all we do is write e-mail? It could. Shostak receives at least 50 e-mails a day. To his way of thinking we should use the telephone more often. What do you think? I like my students' ability to communicate anytime and reach me with a question. It makes the learning much more valuable, but, granted, it takes time to answer those e-mails.
E-mail continues to garner headlines in the business sections of newspapers. Spamming of e-mail represents a particularly troublesome issue as more efficient ways to handle e-mail are found. Spamming means the receiving of unwanted junk mail that interferes with the office tasks. We have also seen how hate mail, such as that delivered to 42 professors of Hispanic origin at California State University, Los Angeles, created major problems.
To clog less cyberspace, Sendmail, a popular Internet answer to spamming, is fighting back with the latest software. According to The New York Times, about 75 percent of the computer systems that route e-mail use Sendmail. Sendmail was originally conceived by Eric Allman when he was a UNIX programmer at the University of California, Berkeley. In the latest versions of Sendmail, the following features are incorporated to prevent spamming:
When a user encounters addressees who hide their Internet addresses, the spamming becomes more difficult to detect. The harassing of customers continues with spamming. America On-line is suing certain Internet addressees who are harassing customers and stealing resources. As Sun Microcomputer Systems and others fund the new Sendmail, Inc., Microsoft will be keeping an eye on the competition with its own electronic post office functions. The battle for your e-mail eyes is never ending.
When we reach the year, 2007, the number of e-mails is expected to grow to the average consumer receiving 3,600 pieces of unwanted mail a year (Janet Kornblum, USA Today, "Spam? No Thanks, We're Full," 13 January 2003, p. 6D). Spam continues to haunt us in several ways:
- ability to reject mail from known spam addresses
- a mechanism forcing users to disclose their real Internet addresses.
Part of the problem of e-mail spamming involves our population of Internet users. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, at least 116 million U.S. adults use the Internet (p. 6D, "Spam"?). In addition, 40 to 45 million children find some use online. With these numbers it is not any wonder we are inundated with spamming e-mail. Think about how many times you have received pornographic messages, pleas from overseas for money, and the downloading of weight reductions. In 2002, for example, each average consumer received 2,300 pieces of unwanted mail (p. 6D, "Spam?"). We saw a 300 percent increased in spam messages from 2001 to 2002. You would think filters would work to solve this problem.
- Spam continues to increase each year.
- Countermeasures are not entirely working.
- Legislation in approximately 26 states is not entirely working.
- Blacklists are imperfect (p. 6D, "Spam?).
- E-mail is overwhelming normal mail received.
- Internet service providers, in certain instances, are furnishing e-mail addresses.
- National laws are being demanded.
Certain Internet service providers already filter their spamming messages. The problem now becomes one of devaluating e-mail (p. 6D, "Spam?"). If junk e-mail continues to outpace regular e-mail (and it will), legitimate mail will take a back seat. What can you personally do to solve this growth of junk e-mail? Janet Kornblum offers these suggestions:
- Keep your e-mail address as private as you can.
- Create an e-mail address that is composed of real words.
- Ask to be removed from an e-mail address, if you trust the firm and it is legitimate.
- Do not reply to spamming mail.
- Report your spamming to your Internet service provider and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Configure your e-mail so it rejects certain spamming mail.
- Use the delete key wherever appropriate.
- Consider changing your e-mail address.
At this writing only the laws of Delaware and Ohio are strong enough to combat spamming e-mail (p. 6D, "Spam?"). At the moment, little can be done to stop the spamming from outside the United States.
Recipients continue to bear the cost of spamming. The cost has become both real and opportunity. In 1997, according to Tim Clipson from Stephen F. Austin State University, the kinds of "spammed mail" included:
29% get-rich schemes
E-mail spamming simply clogs the system of legitimate e-mail. It is contrary to the purpose of e-mail. You even have to be careful what is said in subject lines of e-mail. The sender can lure you with a fairly straight line. My advice is always to avoid answering the e-mail or sending back a request not to receive anymore. That "sending back" places you on more mailing lists. You are considered a "live e-mail." Since 1997-98, the state of Washington has promoted a law that says you can receive $5,000 for each spamming message received.
9% bulk mail.
At this point you might like to take the "non-spamming" pledge called The Boulder Pledge, originally promoted by Roger Ebert of "Ebert at the Movies" fame on the television networks:
"Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community."
When the war in Kosovo, formerly part of Yugoslavia, dragged on, enterprising Serbians begin spamming the e-mail airwaves. Lawyers and selected non-profit associations begin receiving 25-50 messages an hour about the need to stop the bombing in Belgrade and other parts of Serbia. Sometimes this spamming amounted to 250 unwanted messages a day. It did no good to send the messages back, because the original recipient would receive more messages. The Belgrade Academic Association for Equal Rights may have been responsible for the spamming, but it is hard to tell. Recipients are now nervously watching their mailboxes for anything with "yu" (referring to Yugoslavia) in the message. This instance of spamming shows how communication channels can be used for ill or good.
One CBS affiliate in Boise, Idaho, has received 200 and 300 e-mails as a conservative estimate. As you would expect, the message remains as "Cyberwar" for the world to read: "In the last nine days, NATO barbarians have bombed our schools, hospitals, bridges, killed our people but that was not enough for them now they have started to destroy our culture monuments which represents the core of existence of our nation (The Wall Street Journal, April 8, 1999)." One software consultant from Belgrade has sent to 880 addressees. What do you think if a person has that much spamming? You have to screen your e-mail. Otherwise, the sender will end up succeeding in the e-mail arms race. Sometimes your senders may apologize and "unsubscribe" you.
You need to get even with the company or organization. You don't like your boss. The company has not played fair with you. How about :
"cybersmearing"? You would like your colleagues or coworkers to know your strong feelings. You may even create your own website to "smear" the organization. Think of the potential of letting 30,000 suppliers, clients, and coworkers know your feelings. One little problem exists. Are you going to be charged in court for your cybersmearing? You may be charged with trespass, if you used the company's computers and facilities. You may be protected by the First Amendment. It all depends.
Apparently, this phenomenon of "cybersmearing" is increasing. People don't seem able to vent their feelings in an appropriate way. For example, Intel Corp., the large manufacturer of computer chips, is embroiled in a lawsuit where a disgruntled former employee flooded 30,000 employee e-mail boxes(Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1999). One upset customer of Experian Information Solutions, Inc., a large credit reporting organization, depicted the company CEO with "666" on the forehead and the maps of attorneys' homes. The Securities and Exchange Commission of the Federal Government has received numerous complaints of "cybersmearing." An $8.3 million lawsuit was charged to an employee who defamed the chief executive and the company with nasty e-mails.
Rumors are too easily spread with e-mail. One series of postings accused a partner of breaking security laws and leaving a trail of troubled companies (Gregg Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1999). None of this information was true. Even marital information was brought up. The company of the other partner retaliated by stating the following about the erroneous postings: "they damaged the company's reputations with the investment community and caused investors to short its public shares by creating doubts about statements made by management"(Gregg Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1999, p. A7).
You need to read the fine print carefully on search engine sites, such as Yahoo, Excite, and America onLine. Defamatory and libelous comments are particularly objectionable when creating a web site. Companies will often issue their own press releases to counter inaccurate and libelous content on certain web sites. These companies can even subpoena "John Doe" records from selected search engines. The Internet is free, but freedom has its price.
The ongoing Microsoft Case has brought forth a plethora of e-mail associated with the company and its competitors. One striking example of the differences in communication styles occurred with Rob Glaser, CEO, Real Networks writing to Bill Gates:
"Bill, hope all is well with you and your family. I'm very interested in understanding your perspective on the matters that Hatch (my note: referring to Senator Orin Hatch from Utah) is likely to want me to talk about, and I'm happy to share with you in advance what I'm likely to say in my testimony. Please let me know if it would work out for us to talk soon."
Bill Gates replied in his e-mail:
"When you are in Washington (referring to D.C.), I suggest you visit the National Gallery and the Smithsonian."
The background of these two messages suggests Gates is not interested in communicating with one of his former officers, Rob Glaser. Glaser is probably perturbed by the oblique message. According to USA Today, Glaser took the response as being cold and flip. Again, these series of paragraphs suggest the lack of face-to-face communication with e-mail. You cannot see Gates' facial expressions from the e-mail or his temper changes.
Dr. Naomi Baron, Professor of Linguistics, from American University, Washington, D.C., has proposed an intriguing look at e-mail. She believes e-mail is becoming much more like speech (Jessica Ludwig, "Logging in with. . . Naomi S. Baron," The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 28, 2000). The same conversational flow of speech is being incorporated in our e-mail. Dr. Baron brings forth these thoughtful ideas in Alphabet to E-mail: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading, her new book about the state of communication.
Ms. Baron takes exception to e-mail having a style. I might disagree with Ms. Baron, because, for example, Wired magazine has its own book on e-mail and online style. In addition, a book has already been published called The Elements of E-mail Style mentioned earlier on this link. Anyhow, let's continue her reasoning. When e-mail was first used as part of the ARPANET, scientists and scholars used their own e-mail style. As Ms. Baron so correctly observed, the growth of e-mail use has mushroomed. The words and ideas on the computer screen have gotten sloppier and more poorly constructed. As I have mentioned in the classroom, some e-mail correspondents think a stream of consciousness is necessary to accomplish e-mail.
Dr. Baron also observes that e-mail has shortened messages. We often don't want to save e-mail, and e-mail will not be found by later generations where papyrus rolls were found in the ancient world. It is a hopeful sign our language is becoming less formal and still grammatically correct. That is the issue. Will our language with e-mail continue to improve or worsen? The guardians of our language need to remain vigilant about the abuses of the language.
Naomi doesn't give too many helpful signs when she mentions certain users of the language live for the moment. Mechanics are not important to these people. Yet, I cannot imagine an e-mail that doesn't have attention to mechanics. Nothing is more disconcerting to read than all small letters with attention to punctuation and complete sentences. Expressive language has its limits.
We have a choice as Dr. Baron recommends. Given the increased use of the Internet, we can choose to avoid sloppy language. We know the language is constantly changing. I may have to accept, for example, in the next few years, prioritize, because only 53 percent of the Usage Panel for the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition, refuse to accept the word as compared a few years ago to 97 percent. Conscious decisions about the language are made every day. We don't sit and ponder the newspaper the way we once did. The message has to be given fast and absorbed fast. That is the challenge of good e-mail.
Here's the question: Can we destroy a relationship by e-mail? Not necessarily. It depends on the words we employ and whether we are misunderstood. As I listened to one of my former students describe how her friends, especially her best friend, use e-mail now rather than the telephone, I thought about that provocative question. Words have so many hidden meanings. Janet Kornblum in USA Today ("E-mail's Limits Create Confusion, Hurt Feelings," February 5, 2002, p. 6D)told one story about how hurt feelings resulted from an e-mail. A San Francisco day trader made fast friends with a woman on the Internet. He had told his new best friend on e-mail about the importance of his setting goals, including the practicing of the bass guitar. His new female friend inquired about whether he was accomplishing his goals and intended that message as a kind of joke. The day trader replied on e-mail: "I don't need another mother."
As we can see from the previous story, words become misunderstood. Are we expecting too much from e-mail? Professor Quentin Schultze at Calvin College believes we are. He details his answer about whether we are too dependent on e-mail: "There's a tremendous over-reliance on e-mail, which is leading to a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, anger and frustration." We have already witnessed e-mails from Pakistan falsely saying Dan Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter, would die or could be released under certain conditions.
Analysts, according to Janet Kornblum, have suggested how conversations and e-mail differ. These suggestions may lead us to understand the differences with e-mail:
- Low feedback. You may talk on e-mail without expecting an immediate response. You know, in time, your e-mail will be answered. Conversation means a more give-and-take situation.
- Reduced social cues. It is harder to hear the voice coming through the e-mail. Emoticons, or special symbols or abbreviations, can somewhat detail the emotional message. Those symbols may still be misunderstood. Certain receivers may not recognize the meaning of the emoticons.
- Excess attention. E-mail has the advantage of allowing us to correct our errors before sending. We can pour over our words until the message is clear. Senders do not always take advantage of the time needed to proofread and approve an e-mail.
- Lengthy continuance. E-mail means a sender can pour out a stream of consciousness. You may go on forever. As the sender is writing, e-mail English creeps into the writing, such as u for the standard you. The receiver, according to Kornblum, may selectively respond to parts of the message.
Kornblum's message is clear. Become aware of what e-mail can and cannot do. It is not the panacea for all communication ills. It has its place in the communication chain, and one must be responsible for its correct and appropriate use.
Last updated Friday, December 26, 2009
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