No day is complete without email from my friend Jessie. However, as she is busy (sometimes) and lazy (most of the time), her messages usually read like this: "Whts up? thks fr the frwd stuff you snt me. I had a grt time at the picnic ysterday. Wish u cud hav been ther."
Yes, email is good. No, it's not doing much for our writing skills.
What we write is usually the first thing that pops into our minds as we type. Language becomes error-prone, casual and more like informal speech. "Because so many people formulate and send messages quickly, email tends to be sloppier and harder to understand", says Naomi Baron, Professor of Linguistics at the American University.
Spelling, punctuation, correct usage and grammar are all victims of the email revolution, as users regularly come up with new twists in style and syntax, often unaware of their errors.
Also, while conciseness and brevity may be important, it sometimes leads to further misunderstandings. Writing instructor Joe Kelly in his article 'The Importance of Writing' says that people sometimes use symbols or short sentences to eliminate wordiness. These could, however, be misinterpreted as "brushing a person off". Kelly advocates careful word selection in order to avoid this, along with the usage of 'perhaps', 'maybe', or 'most' to give readers the impression that "the writer is not a know-it-all, but a concerned individual".
Linguists say it is from written works that we get an impression of what past civilisations were like. If our current writing skills are anything to go by, then, what would future civilisations think of us? It boggles the mind.
Bad writing is not the only side effect of the email phenomenon. Think 'virus'. Security firm MessageLabs predicts: 'One in ten emails transmitted via the Internet will contain a virus by 2008, and as many as one in two by 2013'. If the recent Nimda worm and SirCam scare haven't convinced you yet, nothing will.
Another major side effect: stress. A study conducted in an American company by Tom Jackson showed that most employees attended to email "almost as quickly as they would respond to telephone calls". A related study revealed that nearly two thirds of all emails were non-business related.
eMarketer, a market research company, estimates that about one billion emails are sent daily in the US alone. It also claims that email users outnumber Internet surfers by 10 per cent. Does this affect productivity? It ought to.
Being obliged to read and respond to certain messages -- from relatives, for example -- is another annoyance. Anish K from Bombay says, "Each assumes he or she is the only one I have to correspond with, and bombards me with messages asking why I don't reply often enough".
Multiple accounts are another nuisance, along with junk mail, unsolicited messages and chain letters.
The attacks on September 11have lead to another problem -- the urban legend. These myths, manufactured to scare people by blaming ominous forces for the recent tragedies, have spawned a number of hoaxes, flooding mailboxes around the globe. They include pictures of 'the face of satan', doctored 'predictions' and the influence of the number 11.
One last disadvantage of using email is its susceptibility to flame wars that involve two or more users exchanging derogatory messages over a period of time. The mud slinging gets increasingly vicious with each exchange, and insults fly fast and furious; a common occurrence for users of discussion forums, mailing lists, newsgroups and bulletin boards.
It all starts when a user considers himself to be truth incarnate and accuses everyone else of being wrong. Since everyone wants to have the last word, the argument never stops.
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