Realities of E-Mail

Electronic mail is a relatively new form of communication providing advanced capabilities for information exchange, processing transactions, broadcasting announcements and carrying on simple conversation. But as with anything new, certain myths and unrealistic expectations have developed.

Following are some of realities of e-mail, as well as some tips for improved communication.

E-mail is not instantaneous communication.
While most messages are delivered within a matter of minutes, delays of hours--sometimes days--are not uncommon. E-mail messages pass through many computers and networks in their journey from sender to recipient, with delivery time subject to the slowest link in this chain. Excessive network traffic anywhere in the process can significantly slow the delivery of e-mail messages.

E-mail is not secure.
Because messages pass through many computers and networks, there are many opportunities for them to be read--despite rules and policies to the contrary. While e-mail is seldom read by unauthorized persons, you can never go wrong by assuming e-mail is only as private as a postcard. Remember, the recipient can easily forward or redistribute e-mail to any number of people without the sender's knowledge or consent.

E-mail can be altered.
E-mail messages can be forged so they appear to come from someone else, and the content of messages may be altered after they have been received. This is a rare event but not technically difficult, just as it is not difficult to forge printed correspondence.

E-mail is not anonymous.
Most e-mail messages can be traced back to their original source.

E-mail is subject to disclosure laws.
E-mail is considered a document under California law that may be disclosed during litigation or in a court of law. Deleting an e-mail message may not erase all copies of the message: the sender or recipients may still have a copy, or a copy may have been saved on someone's backup tape and thus still discloseable in a court of law.

E-mail sent by a university employee may be disclosed to the public under the California Public Records Act.

Be careful when sending replies to messages.
Using the automatic reply feature when responding to a message sent to a number of recipients may mean your reply will go to all recipients of the original message, including everyone on an extensive mailing list. Always inspect the "to" and "cc" e-mail addresses immediately before sending a message.

Attaching documents can be tricky.
When attaching documents, it is helpful to also insert the text into the body of your message because your recipient's e-mail system may not have the ability to translate your attached document.

Be cognizant of your computer system's parameters.
The e-mail server (computer) on which your e-mail resides may have storage quotas or time limitations.

Let senders know you have received their message, even if you can't respond in-depth immediately.

Choose words carefully as you would in any written correspondence.
Recipients cannot see you and lack the visual clues to tell when you are joking.

Do not send messages in all capital letters:

Based on an article in the May 29, 1996 issue of UCI-News.