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Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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In the early 1970s, to send a letter to someone, the main avenue available was the mail service. One would craft a letter, edit it, place it in an envelope, take it to the post office, purchase and affix a stamp to the envelope and mail it. What wonderful memories! Then, a new means of communication - electronic mail or email - burst on the scene.

Wikipedia traces the advent of emails to the Arpanet. Proposals for encoding email messages emerged in 1973. With the advent of the Internet, the use of emails to exchange digital messages increased greatly. Furthermore, when in 1981 the American company, IBM, launched the first personal computer, electronic mail was to emerge as a preferred mode of written communication.

In the early 1980s, the extent to which emails would revolutionize communications might not have been clear to everyone. As it turned out, the speed of email communication spurred the demand for immediate answers. Emails radically altered people's expectations. 

When some people send an email, they expect the addressee to receive it in minutes or even seconds, and often they anticipate receiving a prompt response. Sometimes, if that response is not forthcoming, another email follows asking whether the original email did not come to the attention of the addressee and seeking word on when a response might be expected. The impatient email sender does not realize that, sending the second email so soon after the first only contributes to an overload of the recipient's email box, with the likelihood that this could further delay the expected swift response. The on demand approach in email communication is astounding.

The problem is exacerbated by those who like to send a single email to several persons who, in turn, dispatch their response to all the recipients of the original email. Then, there are others who address an email to a particular person and copy the email to additional persons whom they surprisingly expect to respond to the emails that are not addressed, but only copied, to them. 

Today, pressure is on email users to find time to read numerous emails, quickly formulate a response, and send it right away to the correspondent. Hardly is there time to craft a reply, edit it, and then, with the click of a button, send it on to its way to its intended destination. 

Once we click the send button, we should not assume the email we have sent is always swiftly delivered. An email may get lost in cyberspace or, especially if the recipient's computer is connected to an office network that does not work efficiently, delivery of an email at the intended endpoint may not be achieved. Consequently, discerning email users refrain from assuming their emails are actually delivered. Nor do they quickly surmise that the absence of a response is due to the tardiness, inefficiency or unresponsiveness of the persons to whom they wrote.

It is true that the popularity of emails is fading before the amazing new communications technologies that are appearing today. However, those who still use electronic mail as a principal means of communication will want to be careful to note its attendant hazards. They will also seek to develop a fairly sophisticated understanding of the email medium itself. This is one sure way to avoid mistaken conclusions.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


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Guest Monday, 30 March 2020