July 22, 2003 Volume 3 Issue 6
E-mail, spam & paper
Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy and others from the WWII era, told us of wonders of the future.
Some of them actually happened. Some.
As the main frame computer business developed during the 1960's the big boys of the time told us of the “paperless society”. That has not happened. And it won’t ... not in your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s lifetime. Maybe never.
“Yes”, I know ‘never’ and ‘always’ get one in trouble. Been there, done that ... not going there again. See the word ‘maybe’? Still, we do like paper.
I’m writing this away from my Arizona office. Have set up shop in another location for a few days. Have a printer with me ... just in case. Half way through my stay I’m out of ink - out of paper. Stuff happens. Paper is the answer. A down hill run is scheduled in the morning for another load of hard copy supplies.
Earlier today, in a conference call with a client out of the country, I asked if they’d please re-send what they’d sent a dozen days ago. Why? Because my hard copy is in my Arizona office, and my E-mail file decided to freeze and loose everything. The electronic record was gone. When the second sending arrived today, I downloaded and printed it immediately. Now I have three copies...one with me, one in my office, and one electronically in my laptop. Ah, what a comfort level.
Where am I going with this? Am I beating up on the E-age? Or is it because of spam I’m pushing the value of paper?
Well, I am not beating up on electronic marketing and communication. No way. Since 1989, my first days with Prodigy, I’ve been hooked. Since the middle ‘90's webmaster Bill Blinn has kept me in line and up to date.
Sure, I live way out in the country, with no cable, no DSL and no future with anything similar. Where cell phones work ... sometimes. Where there is no local radio (true story, our location is such that we do not get radio ... walk 100 yards in any direction and a buzz fills your ear - drive half a mile and you hear a station. Or maybe two. Sometimes.)
We get a big laugh when city folks come and share all the things they’re going to do for us with satellite. Big time laugh. As even thou we do get decent television by satellite, it is yet to provide reliable service for anything else. Our dial-up 28.8 is it for a while. A long while. That’s just the way it is.
Yet, I’m not beating up on anything “E”.
As paper, too has limitations. During the days when I lived with a telephone and fax machine, and that was about it, I was never as efficient as I am now. There were just so many fax messages I could read and respond to in a day.
Much of my business comes from places outside my local base - fax was a great way to communicate. Particularly when I followed-up the telephone conversation with a short fax, and then a full paper direct mail package. Maybe including an audio or video tape. The one-two-three punch of phone/fax/mail was good.
That all changed with the laptop, eFax and E-mail. Today quick, fast and efficient communication is just about as good as it gets. Not that it won’t get better. It will.
Let’s go back a generation or so - and look at history. I still remember the time when overnight delivery was just an idea Fred Smith (FedEx founder) dreamed. His university prof told him it would not work - he did not get a great grade on that paper. Yet, it did work. And what use to take 2-3-4-5 days is now “overnight”.
Today E-mail takes 2-3-4-5 seconds. And it is good. Very good. So, I’m not being negative on electronic.
Yet, we do have this problem; spam. Not the stuff you eat, the stuff that eats up band width and fills servers with stuff we don’t want or like or need. Sounds like vegetables I don’t like, either. Not sure what you think of the spam you can eat ... yet, it’s certainly agreed the other kind is not good for you. Or your business health.
A few months ago Michael C. Dorf, a professor at Columbia Law School, wrote an interesting article for USA Today. About E-mail and spam. And paper. Part of what he shared was this;
“...annoying and wasteful as spam is, scattershot e-mail from
The professor is right. He continues;
“That figure does not include time spent using e-mail productivity
Here I both agree, and disagree, with Mr. Dorf. There is no doubt E-mail takes time ... lots of it. Those of us in the communications industry, or needing to communicate within the business world, have made E-mail one of two ways we get to other people ... the other being the telephone. And E-mail is winning, because so often when I phone you, you are not there! Yet, when you return, you will receive my E-mail.
What would happen if we inserted paper back into the mix? Plan to include paper as part of our messaging? Instead of using E-mail for your meeting announcement or minutes, to confirmation an appointment, to send a thank-you card, reminder note, or birthday card - what if you returned to paper? And did it with pen, paper, a real envelope and a “live” stamp from the post. WOW - would that be moving backwards into the 20th Century? I don’t think so.
More from the professor;
“This is not to say e-mail lacks advantages or even that its costs necessarily outweigh its benefits. If one disciplines oneself to check e-mail only two or three times a day, to reply only to messages that cannot go unanswered and then to be succinct, perhaps e-mail can provide the convenience it promises.”
This is good theory - and something only someone not in the business world day after day would say. Looking at E-mail two or three times an hour is more like it for me. Yet, again, the good gentlemen from Columbia has made a point. And I like it.
Paper hasn’t yet and won’t any time soon, be out of vogue. You may wish to consider including it in your next marketing program.
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