The features of e-mail which are responsible for these new channels of communications include its speed of transmittal, its cheap cost, the convenience of its asynchronous nature, and its ecological correctness over paper mail. However, there are drawbacks to using e-mail as well: difficulty in sending emotional tone, bad manners/"flaming", hastily sent and poorly thought out messages, and the rising tide of junk e-mail. Despite these disadvantages, a large number of people feel the positive aspects of e-mail outweigh the negative.
The following articles expand on these ideas further and provide concrete examples of the ways in which e-mail is changing communications channels.
This article, from a few years ago, broadly surveys not just the positive features of e-mail usage, but the negative features as well. The positive features cited are its speed, its asynchronous convenience, and its ecological correctness. The negative features cited are its lack of privacy, its ease which can lead to accidentally sending a message to the wrong person, "artificial illiteracy" (the speed of e-mail which lends to poor spelling and grammar), the anonymity which leads to flaming, and the proliferation of junk mail and the high volume of e-mail traffic.
This article is interesting primarily for its historical value of indicating awareness of negative issues of e-mail usage some number of years ago. All of these issues continue to this day, and in fact are exacerbated by the sheer size of the user base.
This article reiterates the fact that e-mail has quickly become a major communications medium for the business world. The features of e-mail cited are its asynchronous convenience, its speed combined with informality (similar to "huddles"), and the level of anonymity which the author says eliminates the distraction of "mode of dress, accent of speech, or size and decor of personal space."
However, the author goes on to say that an emerging trend is the convergence of e-mail, faxes, and voice mail. The author states that if voice mail can be as conveniently sent, filed, and retrieved as e-mail, people may find speaking voice messages easier than typing text messages. If this were to happen, then features specific to text messages (e.g., easy scrolling and searching through messages) will be lost.
This article describes a growing trend in patient-physician e-mail communications. As managed care forces patients to give up their longtime physicians and doctors to spend less time with each patient, e-mail emerges as a convenient communications medium to facilitate the missing conversation time. For these doctors and patients, e-mail's perceived intimacy as the major factor in its use.
However, the article also says there is a segment of doctors and patients for whom e-mail is used for its efficiency of exchange, not for comforting and reassuring patients. This group relies on e-mail's asynchronous convenience, its reliability over possibly garbled telephone messages, and its persistence and being printable and savable.
This article talks about the new trend for parents of 20- and 30-somethings to come online. The two applications being used are e-mail communications and web sites to bring together parents and children and between all family members. The layer of anonymity of e-mail is cited as allowing more intimate communication between parents and children, who might otherwise be more inhibited or not talk with each other at all. Also, the ease of sending copies of e-mail to many family members facilitates group communication. Web site browsing also is used to bring together families: parents who browse their children's web sites also learn more about their children than they knew before, and family web pages allow sharing of pictures.
The article also discusses the difficulty this trend brings up of children trying to impart netiquette to their parents as they bring them online. For example, parents who continually use the same e-mail subject line or long, rambling messages are two examples that were cited.
Johnson describes how e-mail is being used for on-line courting. He cites various academics, a psychologist, sociologist, and a professor of management, to explain how e-mail creates "electronic proximity" and also how the anonymity leads people to be more open and to share more personal aspects in expressing themselves. The lack of physical interaction is also an advantage in the early relationship, as it provides a measure of safety until the participants feel comfortable enough to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
Johnson goes to on to mention the possible problems of on-line romances. Specifically, he notes that e-mail is far less private than many people think, and also that employers generally have the legal right to read employee's mail at any time. Sexual harrassment charges are also a potential risk for would-be suitors.
Kugel talks about her experience of her neighbors creating an e-mail list of the people in their neighborhood. They used this list to discuss things of all sorts, such as advice on car mechanics and considering the change in property values if everyone replaced water pipes during street repaving. Sub-lists formed as well, such as the list for those with dogs who report when flea season starts.
The use of e-mail allowed the neighbors to share information with each other in a very convenient manner, much easier than gathering for neighborhood meetings every time an item needed to be discussed. However, Kugel points out there are problems with their system. The largest problem is the fact that these mailing lists add to the volume of e-mail they all receive already. But she is proud of the fact that e-mail, which is often said to increase isolation between people, has brought together her neighborhood.
Hallowell suggests that the way e-mail insulates people from one another can be a positive or a negative thing, depending on the circumstances. It spares people from facing some conflicts directly, it can allow the work of a meeting to be accomplished without making people suffer through the one person in the group who doesn't know when to stop talking. On the other hand, there are times when the personal contact of a "human moment" is needed to resolve a conflict, or to build trust. He recommends that people make a practice of making considered, conscious decisions when they choose which method or tools to use for a given communication.
Kuttner discusses the pros and especially the cons of e-mail in this article, most of which relate to the unique features of e-mail as a new channel of communication. While e-mail saves time and has "facilitated new, unimagined forms of affinity," it is also, in the words of the author, "one more garden demanding tending." E-mail creates a demand for instant response, making it more convenient for the sender than for the recipient. The neutral format of e-mail communication is capable of bringing complete strangers together and depersonalizing close friendships. Because e-mail is "tone-deaf and all too instant," mishaps occur frequently.
E-mail's strengths, according to Kuttner, are its usefulness in scheduling meetings and conducting research, not to mention its ability to allow people far apart to collaborate on projects. Kuttner believes that like all new tools, e-mail will experience an awkward adjustment phase before etiquette and standards of usage are established.