Writing Style – McLuhan and Emails

Emails have only been an official tool of the workplace since the mid 90s. However, the media philosopher Marshall McLuhan seemed to be referring to them in the 60s when he said, “We shape the tools and they in turn shape us.”

Emails were designed to make us more productive. We can send and receive information at the touch of a button. We can write joint reports with people in other offices – or even countries. If someone is “on the road,” no problem. We’ll just send him an email and expect a reply within a few hours. And we can ignore time zones. They are no longer a communications problem.

Moreover, if we think of an idea or a problem to address when office hours are over, we can pull out our laptops/Blackberries and handle it immediately.

But McLuhan was right. This productivity tool is also shaping us. There is more stress in the workplace today because of emails. People are overusing them — sending both relevant and irrelevant messages with little thought. The number one complaint people have with emails is that there are just too many. In fact, handling emails has added one hour to the workday. (If you did the math of this, you’ll be amazed at how much of a company’s corporate payroll goes toward the handling of emails.)

Part of the problem with emails is that business people have not been officially trained on how and when to use emails. They don’t know how to mange their inboxes. And they have not been taught that the rules for letters do not work for emails, nor do they understand that tone is much more important with emails than with other forms of writing.

Emails are a wonderful tool. But they are forcing us to think outside the standard writing/organizing boxes we have previously relied on for business communications.