A Look Back at the 1999 Newsweek Feature: We’ve Got Mail – Always

In the 1999 Newsweek article, We’ve Got Mail-Always, Andrew Leonard playfully debates both the positive and negative aspects of e-mail and reaches the nebulous conclusion that depending on the circumstances e-mail can either be a blessing or a curse. Detracting from the workers productivity by causing him or her to frivol away their time with junk mail, spam, unnecessary messages, e-mail has always been a burden exacting its toll from the workday. However, e-mail can bring together people separated by physical borders or long distances-relaying information faster and more efficiently than can be done by means of postal services. Many goals whether beneficial or harmful can be contrived through e-mail. Publications, campaigning, or criminal activity are all able to be enhanced by the faculties provided to people through access to e-mail.

Accelerated productions of new and useful applications of the Internet and digital technology pale in comparison to the dependence on e-mail in its ability to infiltrate virtually all aspects of public and private life. En masse Internet and computer users have been flocking to e-mail deeming the software an essential component of computing. The popularity of e-mail has been shown to be factually veritable by numerous studies, which support e-mail’s claim to its status as the most utilised function of the Internet.

Yet, tracing back the history of e-mail, one might be surprised to find that e-mail was not intended to be employed as a primary means of communication for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Rather, e-mail was developed to provide a medium for a few people to send messages to each other about frivolous and unassuming topics of interest, but now e-mail has seemed to have surreptitiously implanted itself into the daily lives of 225 million users worldwide. The uses of e-mail are limitless in number and variety. Leonard recounts two instances, in which e-mail incorporated itself as a necessary participant in the events. When Leonard’s first child was born, e-mail was a well-fit tool to allow him to manage writing and parenting.

In another case, Leonard had made use of e-mail, in order to allow his family to communicate with a relative with Parkinson’s disease, who was not able to write but was able to type words on a keyboard to send a message. Jenn Shreve offers details on how e-mail can assist people both in romance and in the workplace, by serving as a “buffer zone” for communication, which would otherwise be plagued by shyness or embarrassment. Nevertheless, the “buffer zone” and anonymity that e-mail provides can be misused and be potentially detrimental to users and those affected, as is the case with delinquent advertising and unruly solicitations. The positive and negative faces of e-mail seem to weigh balance each other out.

E-mail, in a sense, has more people reading and writing, which gives many the notion that the technology will increase literacy. However, the literacy e-mail threatens to bring consists chiefly of severed words and progressive catch phrase wantonly meshed together in haphazard messages judged by unconventional standards for writing. Moreover, electronic communications of any importance are quite susceptible to ease by which they are able to be lost or deleted. For example, e-mail correspondences helping to shape the history of Silicon Valley have all been lost to the mandates of periodic deletion.

Downfalls aside, e-mail serves as a powerful tool in crossing borders and allowing communication scaling from large cities to remote locations. E-mail has brought to our generation the ability to synergistically work together as no other age has ever been chanced to have conceived. Collaborations between companies, individuals, families, schools, and other institutions have been tremendously propelled forward by accessibility to e-mail. However, the pitfalls of e-mail also lie in the fact that it is too convenient a medium of communication. The ability to reach anyone, anywhere is one bound for overuse, constantly edging on abuse. E-mail’s ability to demolishes boundaries does not always parallel our ability to rebuild them.

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