Magazine article The New Yorker

ELEMENTS OF E-STYLE; out Box

Magazine article The New Yorker

ELEMENTS OF E-STYLE; out Box

Article excerpt

E-mail isn't the most self-conscious medium; haste and volume encourage many correspondents to forget themselves. Still, everyone settles on a style. The lower-case non-punctuators, the serial capitalizers, the rhetorical questioners, the subpoena-anticipators, the posterity-watchers: they all have their reasons, and their conceits.

Two years ago, David Shipley, the Op-Ed editor of the Times, and Will Schwalbe, the editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, were eating oysters in Grand Central Terminal and complaining about ill-considered e-mails they had recently received, and even sent. Before long, they found themselves cobbling together a system of proper usage and protocol. Now, with the publication of their book "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home," they have put themselves forward as the genre's Strunk and White.

Shipley and Schwalbe enumerate six essential e-mail types (the Ask, the Answer, Grovelling, etc.), eight deadly sins (too casual, too vague, too illegal, etc.), and a four-step checklist (S.E.N.D.) that reflects the authors' broad-ranging e-mail conservatism. "S" stands for simple, "E" for effective, "N" for necessary, "D" for done. Generally, they'd have you hit "send" later and less often. They offer a hermeneutics of the cc, an invocation against the word "please," and a number of rather chilling but by now self-evident rules ("Never forward without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded"). The reader gulps at the thought of unexploded self-incriminations ticking in servers around the world. The authors, astonishingly, come out in favor of exclamation points (" 'Thanks!!!!' is way friendlier than 'Thanks' "), abbreviations ("Is LOL . . . really inherently more opaque than FYI?"), and emoticons (those smiley faces and the like may "bug many people but they make us smile").

Each author considers the other to be the best e-mailer he knows. "Talk about a great e-mailer!" Shipley wrote in an e-mail last week. "Mr. Schwalbe is too kind. He's really the best. On top of that, he always manages to refresh his Subject Lines." But they acknowledge that they are hardly perfect. Last week, for example, an attempt to reach Shipley by e-mail resulted in silence; he was on vacation in Germany, and his out-of-office autoreply had failed to deploy. Still, summoned by fax, he eventually joined an e-mail three-way, noting, nonetheless, that such an arrangement was perhaps less expedient than a conversation via instant messaging or telephone. …

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