Like the electric kettle – how did life function without it? Email – a way of transmitting our most intimate thoughts and private intentions from one to another. At the press of a button a thought – half baked and ill-considered – travels the globe. Little did those poor souls at the University of East Anglia realise that their contribution to the scientific dog-fight would be stripped bare. Time and again the email has replaced the petard and unwitting individuals are hoisted on it – wondering why modern technology could have so let them down. Here seem to me some elementary rules on the use of email:
(i) Email is not an informal communication system. Your correspondence can be read by anyone by fair means or foul.
(ii) Do not lie on an email. If you lie on an email you will be found out.
(iii) Email can come to haunt you. Don’t believe that deleting an email removes it from the record. The originator, the recipient, their server and your server will maintain a copy possibly for up to six months.
(iv) Email is good evidence. If important enough you may be required to surrender your email and possibly the contents of your hard disk to the men in blue. How embarrassing would that be?
(v) Email is subject to the laws of libel. Do not write anything which you would not be prepared to defend publicly – the laws of libel apply to email as well.
(vi) Email is not private. Do not use it to transmit personal details either about yourself or others.
(vii) Some email is important. If an email is important archive it and consider printing it and saving it in a paper file.
(viii) Email lacks a sense of humour. A little humour helps the World Wide Web go round. But what you send will come back to haunt you so make sure you are funny at least!
(ix) Email brings out the bully. If someone demands an instant reply – let them wait. Lawyers in particular love to demand that you reply instantly to their every need. When receiving an email of that kind I make brief reply that because the message is so important and so urgent I will be spending at least a day/week/month (delete as applicable) considering a fuller reply.
(x) Email encourages the prolix and organisational flashing. Say as little as you need to and keep away from the cc button.
(xi) Email can take control and sap your will to live. Let everyone know that an email is only deemed read when you reply. You should be in control of your time – do not concede it to whoever fancies sending you an email.
(xii) Email and the 24 hour rule. If you feel annoyed by the contents of an email or are frustrated by the stupidity/knavery/unpleasantness of the person who has written then do not reply for at least 24 hours.
...last but not least: never write email on a Blackberry, iPhone or other gadget. You cannot really see what you are doing and in those circumstances you will fall in a hole.