Rethink e-mail casualness

I have little doubt that old e-mails will be easy fodder for future political candidates.

Ah, the electronic age. The information age. The “paperless society.” Or is it?

Many of us use electronic communication to do a number of tasks. Much of this is personal, yet e-mail is the de facto means of communication at work. And what about the so-called “social networking” Web sites? What are the risks of electronic communication?

You should be aware of the risks. Take it from me, a person who has been around the block a few times. The following advice may save you some embarrassment, it could save you your job and it could even maintain the possibility of big-picture dreams.

There’s an old saying and it is rather simple – “Never write it down.” Joe Kennedy was famous for saying this, among others.

Consider that what you write on paper is a record. Is e-mail any different? Yes, but in a bad way. It’s worse. Paper can get lost, can degrade in quality, can be manipulated and is easily discarded, if only because it takes up space.

E-mail can be, and often is, permanent. What are you putting in your e-mails? Have you included controversial or politically incorrect language in e-mails you’ve sent? Your answer is probably “yes.”

Consider who reads these e-mails. Are they your friends? Boyfriends or girlfriends? Co-workers? How long will these relationships last? Can they turn sour? How do you know if your message was destroyed, stored or forwarded to someone else?

Let’s take politics as an example of how this situation could play out. Right now, I am sure nearly everybody grows tired of the negative ads we see on TV or hear on the radio about political candidates. What dirt can they dig up on these middle-aged men and women? Well, they can dig and they might find something. But then, there wasn’t e-mail when they were in college.

What would happen if you ran for public office in say, 15 or 20 years? Do you think it is possible that past e-mails could be dug up? With e-mail accounts having huge storage banks and people saving e-mail more than ever, chances are fair that somewhere, somehow, someplace, a few nasty e-mails you sent when possibly under the influence, blissfully romantic or for some other crazy reason, could be dug up.

I have little doubt that those then-old e-mails residing on somebody’s hard drive or server will be easy fodder for future political candidates.

The point here is that you should always be careful of what you put in e-mail. If you have some casual, off-the-cuff conversations you want to have with your friends, call them on the phone. Don’t put nasty stuff, gossip, possible slander or anything that might get you into trouble in e-mail.

Even good intentions by e-mail can go wrong. Understand the person reading the e-mail cannot see your body language or your tone of voice. Don’t use sarcasm.

I just spent some time telling you about the perils of risky e-mail behavior. Just think of what future employers or future voters will think when they see you on video intoxicated, careless or reckless.

I remember when I was in college. There were times when I had an attitude. I sent e-mails I regret. After all, when you’re in college, you want to be free, right? Well, be free and have a good time, but just don’t jot off philosophical e-mails after a night of hard drinking or post videos of yourself while at a party.

Your future could well depend on it.

Brad Engelmann is a University employee. Please send comments to [email protected]