Dead or Not, Email Makes You a Better Writer and Thinker

Email

E-mail is a sinkhole where knowledge goes to die.

People have been predicting the death of (and perhaps by) email for years, and the debate on the issue continues.

I find email indispensable—at least in my professional life—and I was fascinated by this story on the clash between college students and professors. It’s rich with killer quotes like the one above.

Email’s Impenetrable Mysteries

Now I’m not one to complain about “the kids these days,” with their texting and tweeting and twerking and all that business. And I appreciate the speed and simplicity that texting offers.

But I was especially struck by this perspective from a student:

I never know what to say in the subject line and how to address the person. Is it mister or professor and comma and return, and do I have to capitalize and use full sentences? By the time I do all that I could have an answer by text if I could text them.

It’s amazing to me that the little things that millions of us take for granted could be utterly mystifying to a whole generation.

Bigger Than Email

But this actually goes beyond the simple act of transmitting an electronic message. Could these kids also be missing out on some fundamental lessons about real life human interaction?

Communicating by email forces you to think about things in ways you might not otherwise have an opportunity to do. For instance:

Status

Understanding how to address another individual—whether by first name or title or “mister”—is an important part of navigating social and professional relationships. Who’s a peer and who warrants a little extra deference?

Intimacy

The salutation says a lot about the relationship. Who merits a “dear” versus a “hi” or a “hey?” It’s a good thing to think about.

Style

How you close says something about your style. Is it “sincerely,” “best regards,” “cheers” or “later?”

Focus

Having to sum up your message in a subject line is a good exercise. It should help you focus your thoughts. And it’s an accountability mechanism, offering a promise to the recipient of what she can expect when she opens your email.

Form

Grammar, proper capitalization, spelling and punctuation have mostly gone out the window in texting and social media, but there are still circles in the real world of work where these things are pretty important.

Your So-called Life

Finally, I love this:

School is a boring thing. E-mail is a boring thing. It goes together.

Ah, youth! I regret to inform this student that life’s boring moments won’t end with email and school. There’s dishwashing, doing taxes, eating quinoa …

The sooner you get used to this idea, the better off we’ll all be.

 

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