119 Years of Trust


Saturday, May 29, 1999

This above all

regional vignettes

[email protected]
By Roopinder Singh

l Bony Sodhi keeps in touch with her children living in the USA on a regular basis, and doesn’t have to spend a fortune doing so; they all use e-mail and exchange news, even jokes for that matter.

l Karan keeps in touch with the latest in his business through e-mail contacts with friends who are now working abroad.

l Satnam Gunsi’s husband is a computer professional in Canada. She keeps in touch with him through e-mail.

l Rajeev uses e-mail to send his resumes to various foreign universities where he is seeking admission.

DO you also want to hitch yourself to the e-mail bandwagon? No one would blame you if you do for the urge to communicate is the strongest among humans. Actually, e-mail has revolutionised the world, sharpened the divide between the haves and the have-nots, changed the perspective of millions of people and about how they look at the world. E-mail, short for electronic mail, is where the action is these days.

Illustration by Rajiv KaulWhat exactly is e-mail? E-mail is the passing of messages from one computer to another, and is to be contrasted with snail mail, which is best defined as "bits of dead tree sent via the postal service." One’s postal address is, correspondingly, a ‘snail (mail) address’."

(Though e-mail is a relatively new concept, oddly enough, the word "emailed" is actually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. It means "embossed (with a raised pattern) or arranged in a network". A usage from 1480 is given. The word is derived from French "emmailleure," which means network. Also "email" is German for enamel.

E-mail is cheaper and faster than a letter sent through ordinary mail. It is less intrusive than a phone call, which could come at an inconvenient time, and in using e-mail differences in location and time zone are less of an obstacle to communication. This convenience of e-mail is providing an impetus to many people to even learn how to use computers. "I always had a mental barrier about computers, even though I had access to them. Once my husband went abroad, I wanted to stay in touch with him. Phone calls were not only expensive, at times we would get cut in mid-sentence. And I felt so bad whenever I missed his call. With e-mail, I write at my leisure, all I want to, and he does the same," says Geeta.

Another major benefit of e-mail is that it is more or less instantaneously delivered to the recipient’s e-mail "box," where it waits till the time it is convenient for him to access it. It is night time in the USA when it is day in India. So, if you want to send an e-mail to someone in the USA, you would send it to him during the day, while he is sleeping and he may reply to it during the night, while you are asleep.

You can access your e-mail account from virtually any computer with Internet access, situated anywhere. If you could not access it at home, you can do it in office, or maybe at an Internet café!

Geeta often goes to a small shop near her house in Panchkula for sending e-mail messages, and it costs only Rs 20 per message!

Now that you know what e-mail is, how do you go about it? Well, a prerequisite of e-mail is that your computer should be networked, i.e. it should be connected with other computers. This can be done in various ways—through local area network, as well as by using a modem.

One of the most popular ways of getting an e-mail connection these days is to get it through the Internet.

You access the Internet (either through your own account or someone else’s) through an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and log on to someone who provides e-mail service. Samir Bhatia-originated Hotmail.com is one of the most famous free e-mail providers, though nowadays almost every company gives you the facility of a free e-mail account.

Once you open an account, which often entails filling in a detailed form, you are assigned an e-mail address, and that is it. You are then free to zap your friends with your messages.

Now that you have access to the new medium, please remember that electronic communication, because of its speed and broadcasting ability, is fundamentally different from paper-based communication. Because the turnaround time can be so fast, e-mail is more conversational than the traditional paper-based method. This, however, is not a licence to go totally bindas, there is a thing called netiquette (see box).

No matter which programme or service provider you use, there are certain things that are common to the medium and must be kept in mind. E-mail might be conversational, but often the recipient may not have the context to your message. You have to provide him with it.

One of the most important ways of doing it is using the subject line that you are asked to fill out when you put in your message. The subject should be given in such a way that it sets the message apart from others and gets the recipient’s attention. It should be brief, only a few words, but should state the essence of your message. You have to assume that the recipient gets a lot of e-mail messages, and sees them in order of importance, often determined by the subject line and the identity of the sender.

If you are replying to a message, you can quote the previous message, this gives the context, and makes it easier to place your reply.

While it is ever so tempting to get on to the conversational mode, and one can quite fruitfully do so with one’s friends, in general, please remember to use proper English. The aim of using e-mail is to communicate—wrong spellings and bad grammar do not help in making a good impression.

If you agree with this, it would be a good idea to continue the practice of using short sentences and short paragraphs while composing your e-mail messages too. Simple rules of good communication transcend the media they may be employed in, all to gainful use.

People often form impressions of others based on their communication skills, and in e-mail messages, the impact will be sans your voice, looks, etc. This could be both, a negative as well as a positive factor! All depends on you.

Once you have mastered the basics, you can go on to the next rung, of using fancy electronic stationery and sending attachments.

Earlier, e-mail messages were "plain vanilla" messages that consisted of text alone, while these days you have stationery to make an impact through your e-mail. Most of the e-mail providers allow you to use various kinds of stationery, which makes your message look quite like the ones sent out on paper.

If you have access to a scanner (a gadget that "sees" pictures for computers), you can also send in your photographs as attachments to the mail. Photos must be scanned and saved in a proper format, and for this you might need the help of your friendly computer nerd (they have their uses, you know). Music and voice files can also be sent as attachments.

Since most of the use of e-mail now takes place on the Internet, you will soon find use for electronic greeting cards. These are quite cute and are often animated, with sound.

One thing you must keep in mind about attachments is that they tend to be rather bulky and you need a good connection, established at an adequate speed in order to enjoy them.

Once a friend sent me some of his photographs. It took me almost half an hour to download it, after which I had to send him a message that while I appreciated his gesture, could he, in future, not send me such bulky attachments? He didn’t mind it at all and, in fact, apologised for his bad netiquette.

E-mail is a wonderful tool, it is here and it’s cheap. Go forth, and e-mail.


"Netiquette" is network etiquette, the dos and don’ts of online communication.

Netiquette covers both common courtesy online and the informal "rules of the road" of cyberspace. The core rules of netiquette are excerpted from the book Netiquette by "Miss Manners" of the Internet, Virginia Shea, published in 1994. For further information, go to http://www.albion.com/netiquette/index.html

1: Remember the human

2: Adhere to the same standards of behaviour online that you follow in real life

3: Know where you are in cyberspace

4: Respect other people’s time and bandwidth

5: Make yourself look good online

6: Share expert knowledge

7: Help keep flame wars under control

8: Respect other people’s privacy

9: Don’t abuse your power

10: Be forgiving of other people’s mistakes


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