Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address as Secretary of State has garnered a lot of attention. I’m not interested in prosecuting or defending her actions. However, I am interested in debating the perils and promises of politicians using email as well as individuals in familiar relationships using written communication.
Email creates an archive. It documents responsibilities for employees from their employers. It speeds up the exchange of data such as the time and location of a party or contact information of a colleague. (You can’t mishear a phone number in an email.). But, in reality it is also used to communicate our thoughts and temporary opinions.
A NYT article writes
“Politicians used to be taught ‘don’t write if you can say it, don’t say it if you can nod,’ ” Mr. Feehery said. “‘Don’t email it’ is the updated version, and a very smart way to avoid embarrassment and possibly jail.”
Mr. Feehery encourages politicians to install plausible deniability into communication. An author cannot deny what she writes, so nod if you can.
Nowadays, I believe, there exists an asymmetric relationship between the speed we write and a reader’s expectations. As readers, we are used to written materials being edited, proofed, and reviewed. We are conditioned to believe that the written word is the conviction of the author.
My teachers taught me to think 7 times before I speak, and my dad taught me to edit my papers 100x before submitting. (I definitely reviewed my papers more than twice). Thinking and editing forces someone to think deeply about what he wants to say. It forces him to argue the point.
People can definitely think out loud through email exchanges, but we need to make sure that society treats the exchanges as just thinking out loud. And, I think, it’s much easier to think out loud by speaking out loud than jotting text and sending it off. Maybe we should consider reserving email for sending data and for ideas we’ve thought about, and meet people in person to talk to them.
P.S. I have decided that I will, at most, only post once a week so I can think more about what I am saying.