For many Americans, e-mail has established itself as a part of our everyday lives. In fact, for some of us, it has become the primary means of communication. In a given day, some Americans will spend more time using e-mail than they will on the telephone, reading their "snail" mail, and face-to-face contact COMBINED. That said, I thought I'd take a moment to offer up a "state of the union" of sorts, as it relates to e-mail.
I'll preface the rest of this column by saying that in spite of my gripes, there is little doubt that e-mail is one of the fastest, cheapest, and simple to use forms of communication ever to exist. Although I consider myself to be a tech-savvy person, I will always be awed by the fact that I can communicate with friends half-way across the world instantaneously, and at practically no cost. As much as I hate to admit it, I really cannot imagine my life without e-mail.
As an editor, my biggest beef with e-mail has less to do with the behavioral nightmares that it can cause, but rather, its impact on corporate culture. Chief among these concerns is the issue of grammar and punctuation-or lack thereof-in our electronic communications. It seems that the more technologically advanced we become, the more our fundamental communication skills seem to devolve. Consider as evidence this e-mail I received from a colleague last week:
Two lousy words, one of which is not technically a word. No "Hello, how are you?," "What's going on?" or even a "WHAZZUP" for that matter. And was it REALLY necessary to spell "today" as "2day" or am I simply not worth the effort of typing in that extra letter? And was it even necessary to approach me via e-mail? Why not just pick up the phone or, GASP!, walk to my office and ask me personally?
On a similar note, a friend of mine pointed out that while e-mail has essentially taken the place of the traditional company memo, the standards that we apply to electronic memos seem to fall short of what was once considered acceptable in the workplace. Whereas the paper memos of old were often spell-checked and proofread at least once, their electronic counterparts are often transmitted the moment they have been written, with little regard to spelling, grammar, or accuracy.
In my opinion, the single-worst thing about e-mail continues to be unsolicited e-mail (a.k.a. spam). In spite of the existence of filtering technologies and legislation intended to block junk e-mail, spam continues to be a major problem for both personal and business users. My company's IS Department does a wonderful job of filtering out the garbage, but it's rare for me to go home at night and find anything less than a dozen e-mails offering me riches in real estate or the opportunity to date 19-year-old, sex-starved Asian girls. And I'm not alone. According to a recent survey conducted by eMarketer.com (www.emarketer.com), there will be 62.3 billion unsolicited e-mail messages sent in the United States this year, constituting approximately 10% of the total volume of e-mail messages sent in the U.S.
Almost as annoying are the e-mail chain letters which I receive on a regular basis from my friends and family "warning" me about the latest computer viruses, recruiting me to participate in a nationwide boycott of gasoline, or informing me that if I just forward the message on to 100 of my friends, we'll all be given free lifetime passes to Walt Disney World. While I know and appreciate the fact that my friends and family have my best interest at heart, I also can't help but roll my eyes when I spot an e-mail with the subject line "Here's the $100 Marshall Fields Cookie Recipe!" or "Snowball: The Giant Mutant Cat of Ontario."
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to write back to my 19-year-old Asian girlfriend.
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