Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Perils of E-mail

Once again, I am reminded of the dangers of electronic communication, or more specifically, the imperative toward speed at the expense of reflection inherent in the systems modern technology makes possible.

Speedy communication has many benefits, but it is also easy, as I learned again today, for people to fail to think about their readers and to edit what they say.

Involved were plans for a coming talk. 'M' wrote to her good friend, 'B,' with some pointed comments about ways to improve the staging of my talk on April 1. 'B' forwarded these remarks, which were hastily written with no thought they anyone else would see them but 'B,' to me.

Unfortunately, M's remarks were poorly worded and included indirect criticism of my style that I found offensive. So there was an angry exchange of e-mails to those involved, and to others in the organization, resulting in profuse apologies and hurt feelings and minor suffering that could so easily have been avoided if both M and B had taken the time to read what they had written and realized that forwarding their comments to me was inappropriate at best.

Too often, speed and the rush of events that dictate so much communication--I think of the too-rapid speech of some media and telephone spokespersons--prevents clarity and therefore upends the very purpose of communication.

There are many other problems unrelated to rushing--I recently read about Nicholas Carr's book on how the internet is affecting our brains and Evgeny Morozov's book on how Twitter, in creating false intimacy, can bring out the worst in people.

Carr, quoted by Maureen Dowd in the NYTimes last month, says that if we are to be aware of our deeper emotions and true feelings, we need to quiet down and be attentive; instead, we are endlessly interrupted and distracted.

What happens to careful thought and effective communication in such a world? My recent experience provides the answer: the new technology makes communication easier but complicates things since it is full of pitfalls and perils.

As I tell my writing students, Be careful what you say in an e-mail. There is no privacy in this still uncharted territory, and the same would apply to other, newer forms of social media.

Is there such a thing as slow,mindful electronic communication?

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

Write the nasty email if you must, but then file it as a draft. Look at it the next day and then delete it! This works best.