In an age where people would rather text someone a compliment than go to the next room and say it to the recipient’s face, or ask how someone is doing on their Facebook wall rather than call them and have a conversation, it has become quite apparent that our society has grown to crave the brevity and instantaneous nature of this electronic communication.  Thus, it comes as no surprise that e-mails have all but stripped the business and personal worlds of hand-written letters, and in many cases, phone and in-person conversations. 

Sure, email has several distinct positive effects, such as the ability to track conversations.  If you’re trying to get Bill to recall that he had agreed to lower his bill rates at the end of the month, it is certainly easier to refer to email conversations than to recall details from a phone call some random Tuesday night.  Emails also have a way of displaying information in front of you to digest and re-digest instead of trying to comprehend it as someone is telling you in a face-to-face conversation (as much as we may love visual how-to’s, there’s a reason that written manuals were created!) And of course, there are just some times when you don’t want to be on the phone for an hour with Jill in accounting when all you wanted to know was if she had time to meet next week.

With all of the benefits of email communication, it’s no wonder that we’ve arrived at a state of dependence where if our Microsoft Outlook is down for an hour, our world literally stops spinning.  But have we become too dependent?  It is important, as with any matter of communication, to consider the pitfalls of email before you make it the exclusive means of communicating with you.

-Email isn’t as private as a one-on-one conversation, and is easily shared.  While this can be a good thing, it has also proven to be harmful when something meant for one person’s eyes is suddenly viewed by 20 in the course of 3 minutes.  It is just too easy to hit that forward button.
-Not to sound like your mother, but email can be dangerous!  There are spammers, hackers, you name it out there, and email is their prime means of accessing you and your information. One second you are opening an email from an unassuming salesperson, the next your computer is frozen with a virus.
-Emotions and tones in emails can be exasperating to try and decipher.  It’s hard to distinguish what someone is meaning, and often times can result in confusion and misunderstandings.  An example of emotion that just doesn’t translate over email is sarcasm; warning: no matter how much you try to use italics or quotes to convey sarcasm, chances are it won’t work.
– There are just several situations where an email is not only ineffective, but not appropriate.  Some conversations are just plain better hashed out in person, and some topics aren’t done justice over html text.  In business, there are simply some conversations where conclusions are arrived more quickly when people can immediately respond, you can read their reactions, and so forth.  And on a personal note, don’t email your Grandma Happy Birthday when you know she only logs onto her ancient PC once a month to play a game of Solitaire.  That’s just plain wrong.

I’m not saying you should eliminate email conversations all together; I am simply saying that there are some situations for which email communication doesn’t quite fit.  And even for times when email is quite sufficient, being cognizant of its shortcomings can help you be more effective in your electronic communication.

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