Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On the Perils of Emails

This blog is prompted by an email conversation in which I was recently involved, and which included a number of recipients and ‘copy to’ folk. The danger of emails has been pointed out to me more than once. When you write something in an email, even if you are addressing that email privately to one person, there is always the danger that the email will ‘escape’. It could be a deliberate leak, or it could be a simple mistake of sending an email to other people that still contains the email trail. I suspect that many a politician has been caught out by careless words that have escaped in this way. There is also the issue that an email has the potential for immortality. A spoken word, although it cannot be taken back, nevertheless lives on only in people’s memories (unless it is recorded in some way, of course). An email, once sent, cannot be recalled—but nor does it dissolve in the ether.

People also often say of email conversations that the words on the screen can be easily misconstrued, because they are not accompanied by a tone of voice and body language, and because they sometimes lack context. This is true, although I think the spoken word is also very easily misunderstood, and it can be difficult to correct such misunderstandings when the other person is already flouncing around the room and flapping their arms in an indignant frenzy. The advantage of emails, however, is that there is time to carefully consider your words and pause before hitting the send button. There is actually less excuse for writing something inappropriate in an email than for saying something inappropriate in a face to face conversation.

My advice when writing emails is to try to avoid saying anything that you would not want the rest of the world to read, because one day it just might! My other piece of advice is to read over an email very carefully before pushing that send button. There’s nothing worse than the ‘Oh shit’ feeling that descends upon you when you realise that perhaps you shouldn’t have said that!

PS. Happy Holidays and all that stuff, in case I don’t post anything here before then.

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