Saturday, May 5, 2007

How E-mail would have changed History and other lessons about the medium that rules our lives

"I’ve become so dependent on e-mail that I sometimes wonder how we ever got by without it," writes Dave Barry in his review of SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe (Alfred A. Knopf) in tomorrow's New York Times Book Review.

Imagine, for example, how useful it would have been for Paul Revere. Instead of having to climb onto a horse in the middle of the night and ride through Massachusetts spreading the alarm, he could have simply whipped out his BlackBerry, fired off a quick message to the patriots in Lexington and Concord, then gone to sleep (unless he also had TiVo).

Of course there might have been problems. Since Revere was typing with his thumbs, his e-mail probably would have said something like, “teh nritish are cming.” As a result the recipients might not have grasped the urgency of the message. The Concord patriots might have assumed it was mainly intended for the Lexington patriots, while Lexington might have assumed Concord was going to handle it, and we would still be British subjects today. I’m not saying that would be a bad thing; I’m just saying it was not what Revere meant to accomplish.

Send is not a history of e-mail. But e-mail is, of course, the preferred method of communication among most legal historians, and e-mail is the new correspondence that historians of the future will look to (if it is preserved...), as we now do with that ancient form of communication -- letters -- of the past. Barry continues,

E-mail, for all its efficiency, often fails to achieve its intended result; a vague or carelessly worded message can cause major problems — personal, legal and financial — for senders and receivers. Helping you avoid these problems is the goal of “Send,” an informative, entertaining, thorough and thoughtful book.... [The authors] summarize their essential message in two rules: “Think before you send” and “Send e-mail you would like to receive.”
For the rest of this entertaining review, click here.