Lost in cyberspace
Literature is filled with stories of letters that go astray, and the ensuing consequences. And Barbra Streisand sings a lovely song by Rupert Holmes called Letters that Cross in the Mail. Lest you think that this doesn’t happen with e-mail, let us assure you that it does. There are lots of reasons for this. Some are shrouded in mystery (this is when you start talking about not- quite-ready-for-prime-time technology) and some are not.
One increasing problem is an unfortunate side effect of the fact that everyone is inundated with junk e-mail. We editors get something over 9,000 pieces of junk e-mail every month, and it doesn’t look as if the situation will get much better anytime soon. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like individuals, are trying to do their part. Some identify e-mail as likely being junk. Some allow you to stick this in a folder on the server where you will never see it, and don’t have to waste resources by downloading it. Others allow you to mark the junk e-mail so that you can deal with it after you download it. Some identify the most egregious cyber-clutterers and block them from their own server. This can be a problem if you expect legitimate mail from that particular server.
This means that if our ISP cuts off a server that is sending out tens of thousands of pieces of spam, we might not receive mail we really want, which is a problem.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that you have no clue as to what has been blocked or unblocked at any given instant, and might well reasonably believe that someone to whom you have written is simply ignoring you.
How can you deal with this? Well, it is a good idea to remember that you have other ways of communicating with people. Thus, if you expect to hear from someone via email and don’t, you might wish to restrain the impulse to get crankier and crankier. Instead, consider other options, like sending them a fax, sending them a letter, or even picking up the phone and calling the person.
When you actually speak to the person, you are quite likely to find that they have been as frustrated with you as you were with them, and you can both save each other a lot of grief. Robert McNamara seemed to intimate in his writings, in the view of one angry Vietnam Marine Gunnery Sergeant, that the Vietnam war was largely a communications problem based on missed meetings.
We can do better than that by picking up the phone when it seems that e-mail might have gone astray. And, in fact, we have had two recent incidents that at least partly show that this approach can work at least some of the time.
In the first, we were sending e-mail to a client and getting no response. The client, of course, was sending e-mail back to us, but our ISP’s spam filter was filtering out their e-mail. A telephone call straightened this out.
In the second case, Sherri Begin, a reporter with Crains Detroit Business had put out a ProfNet query involving, among other things, protection from data theft. Since LUBRINCO is the leader in private sector OPSEC, we e-mailed her some information. The e-mail – and subsequent notes – was bounced by Crain’s spam filter. In this case, picking up the phone didn’t help, as she didn’t return our calls. We assume this meant Ms Begin dropped the stories when, because of Crains’ spam filtering, she got no responses to her query.