Maybe you’ve had your in-box filled with “reply alls” that didn’t need to be, or you’ve been involved in a never-ending RE: RE: RE: RE: e-exchange. Hurt feelings, leaked information, wasted time, and inappropriate requests are all a part of the electronic communication culture.
In Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home, David Shipley and Will Schwalbe delve into the history of e-mail, telephone, the written letter, and conversation, analyzing how e-mail differs from the others, why we err both in writing and reading e-messages, and how we can avoid making embarrassing mistakes in judgment and propriety when we communicate via the keyboard.
Citing examples of public officials whose e-mail embarrassments have been made public (e.g. FEMA’s Michael Brown), Shipley and Schwalbe explain why the form causes so much trouble: we forget that it’s not private; that it creates a permanent record; it’s quick to write and send; it is difficult to convey tone in e-mail; personal conversation and letters allow more room for expression and revision. We get cues in conversations—pauses, frowns, sighs, laughs—that we don’t get in e-mail, so it’s harder to modulate our messages to accommodate our audience.
The authors remind us to reconsider our modes of communication, and to judge carefully which form best fits our message—just because we can e-mail doesn’t mean we should. Some messages (“I think we should end our eight-year romance and see other people”) might be better suited to a personal conversation, whereas others (“Let’s go see a movie tonight” or “Hey—could you send me that illustrated book about the history of flyswatters”) are fine for e-mail.
Throughout the book, the writers focus on language and how its meaning is affected by the mode in which it’s transmitted, and how personal and professional relationships and impressions are strengthened or weakened based on how we use our words and with whom. This is, truly, essential reading for anyone interested in electronic etiquette, and especially those who depend on their finesse with words for their livelihood!
Cathy Belben lives in Bellingham, Washington, where she earned early fame for her award-winning fourth grade essay, “What the flag means to me” and later wrote bad rhyming poetry for the Whatcom Middle School Warrior Express. She recently survived a year in Hollywood writing for the show Veronica Mars. She’s returned to her normal life as a high school teacher and librarian, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a yogi, a dog’s mom, a cat’s slave, an artist, a napper, a nanny and an auntie. She’s thankful every day for everything.