What a wondrous thing!
What a royal pain!
It's e-mail, of course. Most business people use at least
one ''address'' for receiving electronic text and graphic
messages via the Internet at their home, office and/or mobile
computers or PDAs.
But along with the legitimate and substantive correspondence
among associates and acquaintances, there are also plenty
of electronic jokes, chain letters, urban legends and spam
on everything from potency enhancement to pleas for assistance
from alleged survivors of deposed African officials.
Then there are scads of other e-mails -- stuff sent in good
faith from businesses and individuals that's also unsolicited
and usually unwanted.
I, for example, review business books, but I'm flooded with
pitches from publicists to do stories on subjects I don't
cover, invitations to seminars and presentations all over
the globe, and offers to sit in on conference calls, interviews
and press junkets that have nothing to do with business books.
I was even invited to interview Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey,
but decided to wait for their business book, first.
Though those in the news business seem to be magnets for
spam, I imagine high-profile personalities and public officials
also get more than their share of unsolicited solicitations,
invitations, commercial offers, business proposals and permutations
of the spam themes du jour.
How they handle their e-mails may yield tips on how to avoid
being buried by the avalanche of electronic mail that assaults
many people at work.
University of Miami President Donna Shalala, for example,
says she gets e-mail from people who still think she's the
secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services,
a Cabinet position she held during the Clinton administration.
''I also hear from alum and people who want to suggest plays
for our sports teams, and offer advice on hiring and firing
coaches,'' she said with a laugh.
''But I get plenty of legitimate messages from students,
faculty and staff, as well as parents and others,'' said Shalala
by phone -- not e-mail.
A SIMPLE TECHNIQUE
How does she deal with spam?
''I don't,'' she said. ''It's either filtered or deleted,
but I never open it.''
How much time does she spend each day with her e-mail?
''About a half-hour. No more than an hour all told most days,''
she said. ''I have a rule that I only handle a piece of paper
once. Same thing with e-mail.''
In addition to her UM e-mail address, she also has a private
account ''for family and friends to reach me,'' said Shalala.
Andrew Tobias, author and the Democratic Party treasurer,
gives his cellphone number to friends, family and business
associates instead of using a private e-mail address.
For the general public, he has a page on his website ( www.andrewtobias.com
) that allows e-mail communication. But how does he read and
respond to everything?
'It's overwhelming. All I do is e-mail. Once in a while,
I run to the refrigerator. Last week, I went for a quick walk.
I read all the mail from my website and will usually do at
least a quick 'thanks' when someone has said something nice
or helpful,'' he wrote via e-mail.
'I'm not able to answer all the personal finance questions,
but some I answer 'on-line' for the rest of the readers to
see as well. . . though lately I've been more into politics
than mortgage prepayments.''
''I get a fair number of really offensive ones, too,'' Tobias
wrote. ''The worst usually come from people who use fake addresses.
So I compose this brilliant reply, so sharp in its logic and
subtle in its sarcasm that it will surely bring them to their
knees begging forgiveness -- and it bounces back as undeliverable.''
''But actually,'' Tobias continued, ''I find that those who
use real addresses -- when taken seriously and answered in
a respectful way -- turn into different people. Turns out,
a lot of these people would never act this way outside of
e-mail, and never really expect you to read it, let alone
answer, and so go way overboard in their rants.
''I've been guilty of this myself. But when you do respond,
their better nature reemerges; they realize there is an actual
person involved, and they become completely gracious,'' he
Don Slesnick is an attorney, but he's also mayor of Coral
Gables. To keep things straight electronically, he keeps one
e-mail account at City Hall and another at his law office.
''They're separate, but invariably some city messages come
to my business and vice versa, so I wind up forwarding them
to where it's appropriate,'' he said.
''I get about 65 e-mails a day as mayor. At least 25 of them
are junk; spam and the usual offers. Another 15 or 20 are
informational and come from staff and managers. Then maybe
another 20 require action, so I respond, try to soothe the
people with complaints or concerns about traffic, streets,
sewers or other city business, and forward their messages
to the appropriate city departments to take care of the problem,
or share in the compliment if there is one.''
The mayor admits, ''I'm not a computer guru, but e-mail is
a way of life and it's distorted public service in some ways.
People expect an instant response. They get it, and it just
encourages more. But that's all right. It's what government
is supposed to do.
''I feel bad, though, for the people who take the time to
write or type a letter, put it in an envelope, pay for the
postage and then wait a few days for me to receive it and
respond. I have to write them back, and I do, but it doesn't
seem fair that I can deal with the ones I get by e-mail first,
and a citizen who makes a greater effort by sending a letter
has to wait longer!''
Dave Wannstedt, coach of the Miami Dolphins, uses e-mail
for business and personal use, but don't expect your e-mail
about his play calling or draft choices to go directly to
him. Fan e-mail that comes through the Dolphins website is
routed to the Dolphins' Internet department first.
'I answer my own e-mail,' Wannstedt said through the team's
Media Director Harvey Greene. ''Most business and personal
e-mail comes directly to me. Fan e-mails go directly to our
Internet department where they either receive a response or
are forwarded to my attention.''
Greene fields reporters' requests for interviews by phone
and e-mail, and says that many fan e-mails can be helpful
and have pointed out errors in stats or other facts in team
Does e-mail save time? It's an open question, but I would
say probably not. Like most technological advances intended
as labor-saving, it's carved its own chunks out of our days
and probably takes as much time as it saves.