dispute about e-mail

System article Type:English Date time:2010-07-01 00:00:00
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How to reconcile these two contradictory notions that e-mail is both salvation
and threat? As we're about to show you, there is no easy answer. In fact, this
may be one of the most daunting, high-stakes conundrums facing corporate
America today. But one thing is certain: Imposing a technological solution to
a behavioral problem, as many companies are trying, seems doomed to failure.
After all, e-mail didn't cause Blodget to write what he did-it simply did a
good job of recording him. It's not as if we've never been warned. Only four
years ago, Microsoft was flayed at its antitrust trial for endless indelicate
e-mails, such as the one in which Bill Gates asked, "How much do we need to
pay you to screw Netscape?" A decade before that an early form of e-mail
provided key evidence in the 1987 Iran-Contra investigation. As it happens,
many of the smoking guns consisted of e-mails that Oliver North had erased.
Or thought hedid. Now, 15 years later, it sounds obvious to say that "delete"
doesn't mean delete. It sounds schoolmarmish to say, "Careful what you write."
We know that already. But still, neither lesson has sunk in. So what is it
about e-mail that makes it seem like electronic truth serum? Some years back,
researcher sat the University of Texas conducted an experiment. They asked
volunteers to sit in a cubicle by themselves and respond to a series of
personal questions. The subjects had to speak into a microphone, which they
were told, would record what they said. Half the group sat in cubicles with a
largemirror facing them; the others had no mirror. The researchers found that
the mirrorless subjects were noticeably more willing to speak and more likely to
sayrevealing things. E-mail, which at heart is a solitary way of communicating,
may convey that same mirrorless feeling. Perhaps that explains our apparent
tendencyto confess electronically. In Alphabet to E-Mail: How Written English
Evolvedand Where It's Heading, linguist Naomi Baron notes that 25 years of
research reveal that "people offer more accurate and complete information
about themselves when filling out questionnaires using a computer than when
completing the same form on paper or through a face-to-face interview. The
differences were especially marked when the information at issue was
personally sensitive."
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