Yes, c-mail. Let me explain.
I am part of a certain segment that came of professional age at the dawn of the internet revolution. We spent the first 18-20 years of lives completely – or mostly – detached from the internet, and the other half completely immersed in it. I guess that gives us a unique perspective on the whole thing.
I sent my first email about 22 years ago as a freshman in college. I learned about the ability to sent an “electronic mail” to someone the way you would learn about (at the time) something like a bootleg album, which is to say standing around a keg at a party (people may have even been smoking cigarettes directly next to non-smokers and indoors for that matter). Curious, I went to a “computer lab” in the basement of some ancient building at Villanova and asked one of the folks working there how to send an email. After two levels of log ins, I sat in front of a blue screen with yellow DOS style font letters. I typed a message to a friend at a different college, sent it, and forgot about the whole thing for at least a week. The whole thing was a novelty and I don’t think I sent another message for the remainder of the year.
While the email platform improved over my remaining college years – from the Tandy 1000 style platform that I sent my first email on to the a platform roughly resembling Outlook – the prevalence of its use did not. By my senior year, I checked email maybe once a week. When I entered law school, the administration, perhaps having a premonition, basically forced the students to communicate with the faculty by email. By the time, I became an associate checking, drafting, and sending email was part of my daily routine.
While the frequency of email use and its prevalence in society steadily increased, one thing that remained fairly constant – at least in the professional sphere – was that email remain true to its origins. It was electronic mail. In other words, it was used as an electronic letter.
Today, the way we use email bears no hallmarks to its original name. Rather, what is has become are electronic conversations or conversation mail or C-mail for short. Herein lies the problem. One need to look no further than this week’s news where c-mails have created a host of problems for the Trump administration (and before that c-mail caused headaches for Hillary and the DNC). I saw the problems C-mail creates closer to home as I spent half of the day cross-examining a witness based on what he did or did not say in email strings was involved with. I have spent entire trials hammering witnesses with snippets of emails they sent long ago and likely thought little about before they sent it.
The problem with c-mail is that it can and will be used against you. C-mail is sterile. It does not have tone or context. Its tone and context is left of the discretion (or mood) of the reader.
How did this happen? The iPhone. Before the iPhone, email was left at work. If you were not at your computer, you were not reading and replying to mail. When the iPhone arrived, email became an invasive species begging for attention 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is no surprise that when the iPhone arrived so did c-mail.
The invasive nature of c-mail and incessant need for a reply has also caused people to send c-mails completely without any emotional filter. That never ends well for the sender.
So my advice, if a matter can be handled with a telephone call or in person meeting, it should be. If you feel the need to respond to an email to establish a record, type a letter in word, convert it to pdf and send it as an attachment. Even further, if you are a very high level executive with administrative staff, do the unthinkable and completely scrap email. I understand that the President does this. (Actually, its not that radical considering the medical, scientific, business, and industrial progress civilization was somehow able to make in the centuries before email existed.)
The later serves a dual purpose. First, a stand alone letter on your letterhead is a much more impacting piece of evidence or exhibit to a motion than an email buried in some string. Second, taking the extra sixty seconds (trust me I know because I do it) to type the letter and then convert it to a pdf gives you sixty seconds to cool off and send a much more logical and powerful reply than the emotional one you would have sent. (And, for those bold enough to go email free you never have to worry about incriminating emails.)
So I urge all of you to Make Email Great Again!