I suppose one could argue that we need a blog post about a book review of an e-mail guide least of all--but I can't help reacting with a ragged, bloggy sigh to one thing Malcolm says--or rather two things, that are really one thing. Here's the first:
College students who send outrageous email requests to their teachers (addressed "Hiya Professor!") or college applicants who write long, self-satisfied emails to admissions officers [and here Malcolm quotes Send] "seem painfully unaware that the person they are writing to (and annoying) is the same person who could be offering them a place in a freshman class or grading them at term's end." The poor lambs don't know any better, and Send is good at setting them straight.
The second thing comes in the next column. Malcolm again quotes Send on the subject of exclamation points: its authors believe that "the better your word choice the less need you will have for this form of shorthand." And she responds: "So this is crux of the matter: Email is a medium of bad writing. Poor word choice is the norm--as is tone deafness."
I don't mean to make a big deal out of this, but isn't this kind of tut-tutting of the young and casual just a bit embarrassing? I am sure that Malcolm considers this review to be little more than a lark, but I think we often reveal ourselves most when we're trying the least, and here Malcolm sounds like one of those decrepit old Republican congressmen who wonder if perhaps they ought to look into getting an "internet web site."
These students she and the Send authors are referring to: I see them every day, and answer dozens of their emails every week. But I don't ever recall being bothered by their insoucience. They are, after all, the young. And as for bad writing--the email, like the letter, is an intimate expression of personality (even when you accidentally reply-all to the executive board), and should no more be bound by the rules of grammar and punctuation than a whispered conversation. Who cares if lousy writing is the default epistolary mode?
What Shipley and Schwalbe seem to be talking about is the formal use and misuse of e-mail (at least it appears that they are--I haven't read the book), and what I wish Malcolm had talked about is the extent to which the formal and the informal have come to overlap, particularly on the internet. E-mail, it seems to me, is at the nexus of the two, and as such is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, the meeting of the old and the new, the personal and the professional, the workplace and the home. Why not talk about that?
Instead, Malcolm seems eager for a time when "email, too, stops being a big deal," and is no more fraught with worry than the telephone. Of course, for most of us, it never was a big deal, or hasn't been for a long time. It would have been interesting for Malcolm to have made a big deal of it nonetheless.