Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Another Kind Of Technological Divide

There have been numerous occasions at work after receiving a question via e-mail that I have picked up the phone and called the person or walked over to their desk to give them an answer. Invariably, the person will ask for me to put what I just said in writing and send it to them in an e-mail. Within the past year or so, it appears that e-mail has replaced speech as the primary means of communication in the working world since it provides the sender with documented proof that he has actually done something.

It has long been my contention that e-mail is the lowest form of communication because it lacks any of the visual clues that accompany and aid face to face communication. This new trend of e-mail only communication flies in the face of everything I was taught by a former boss and mentor who instructed me to use e-mail only as a last resort.

It seems that e-mail is simultaneously bringing continents closer and closer together, and people sitting in adjacent cubicles farther and farther apart.


At May 7, 2008 at 1:06:00 PM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

So true. This is like the achor b'achor relationship between people. Whereas the face-to-face way of relating to others is the panim b'panim relationship.

The proof thing is very valuable though, as I learned in my last job. It happened a number of times that people thought they weren't told someting, and I had to find the e-mail to both remember and prove that they were told.

-Dixie Yid

At May 7, 2008 at 1:16:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Oh, how true it is! (on all counts)

At May 7, 2008 at 3:33:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Email---if you don't go and delete it!---provides a written record of the interaction, but that's still not the best interaction. Some combination of in-person or phone discussion and email may be best for many business purposes.

For example, instead of springing some new idea and its documentation package on a busy/distracted/absent boss or colleague, you can get the ball rolling with email that he can read when he has time, and then you can follow up personally.

At May 7, 2008 at 3:45:00 PM EDT, Blogger Gandalin said...

In an organization in which I used to work, before the e-mail era, we had what was called a 3 Way Memo. This was a memorandum printed on NCR paper, three layers thick. You wrote your memo, and sent it your colleague, then you tore off the top sheet, documenting that you had sent it. The recipient then replied to you on the same form, tearing off the top sheet, and keeping the third sheet.

The thing is, sending a 3 Way Memo was invariably interpreted as a hostile action.

And it usually was, because it meant you wanted that sort of documentation, proving that you had raised the issue.

Nowadays, I think that is accomplished by blind-copying-up to managers.

Which might be an interesting topic for an office ethics discourse.

At May 8, 2008 at 12:08:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's a very good question. I have often wondered where to draw the line as far as how much of one's actions need be exposed in the interest of full disclosure - especially in work related situations, but it exists in non-work related situations as well (forwarding emails is general a common ethical question).
If I decide to do something for my own protection, or my own personal interests, how obligated am I to state that? In most cases I ask myself, what if it was the other way around? i.e. If I wouldn't mind someone doing it to me, then it's probably ok. But, in truth, the flaw in that logic is obviously that the other individual may very well not agree (and it's about them after all).On the other hand, I'm not required to divulge opinions or thoughts that I think I'd rather keep private, so why should this be different? For example, if I don't like someone very much, I don't think I should tell them that (obviously, I also shouldn't harm them either). But of course this is a little different since it's not in the realm of thought.
So, for now, I go on a case by case basis (and I don’t claim that I always make the right decision)…

At May 8, 2008 at 12:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(But I do know someone who is opposed to the entire concept of BCC for anything other than group emails where one is simply being sensitive to not exposing other people's email addresses)

At May 9, 2008 at 5:05:00 AM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

Although email is lacking visual clues, etc., it has the advantage of being able to provide a thought out response instead of a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, many's the time I've written an email only to delete it before sending realizing that some things are better left "unsaid."

I agree with C.E., but would take it a step further and say that a combination of email and verbal is a good idea even for personal communication.

At May 9, 2008 at 6:14:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Moshe: Indeed. Chabakuk Elisha and I addressed this aspect in the posting A True Virtual Friendship?


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