Shipley and Schwalbe focus on tone. They remind us that communication in person, and to a lesser degree on the telephone, carries with it far more information than words on a screen. Tedious volumes have been written on nuance conveyed by the angle of the speaker's eyebrows, and most people seem to have picked up the concept somewhere. To counteract email's lack of tone, though, Shipley recommends inserting emoticons, those annoying little graphics meant to suggest smiley faces or winks.
Perhaps more helpful are the suggestions to stop, read, and think before hitting the "Send" command: Check your spelling, punctuation and word choice - is your meaning clear? Cut the fluff. Consider your position in relation to the recipient. Avoid frivolous requests or demands. Understand that everything you write can be permanently saved, searched, and sent to others. Learn how to clean up your hard drive, but understand that corporate backups retain copies of every document and porno pic you've ever sent or received -- except for that one essential document you need.
S & S give much attention to the "To," "Cc" and "Bcc" lines. Here's a helpful suggestion: "Never forward anything without permission, and assume everything you write will be forwarded." When responding to an email addressed and/or copied to a group, should you "Reply" or "Reply all"? The social and political ramifications of such questions get quite a few pages.
The emotional content of email gets some ink too. Flame wars are discussed, as well as the wisdom of using email to fire employees or initiate divorce proceedings. The authors argue convincingly that some messages are best delivered in person, despite the personal risk.
They touch less convincingly on security: An "independent" business leader, subpoened to offer Congressional testimony, was discovered through Word tracking in a document file to have permitted a Bush official to edit his statement. When confronted with the truth, he said, "The real scandal here is that after 15 years of using Microsoft Word, I don't know how to turn off 'Track Changes.' " Scandalous indeed. Unfortunately, S & S go on to instruct their reader on how to turn off tracking and they get it wrong.
The book does discuss some interesting issues. Trouble is, the issues have been endlessly discussed, published, flamed and forwarded online for the past 20 years. Most corporations publish their own email guidelines, often reflecting their distinct corporate culture. I've been using email since it was first available to civilians-1980 I think it was -and for as many years have shared in the online debate. My teenaged daughter, when I asked her about email, said, "I don't know much of a world without email." I reminded her that, as a Waldorf student, she had in fact been protected from the evil influence of computers almost until high school.
She came back with a story published in Reed College's student newspaper, "The Quest": A San Francisco high school, trying to take the edge off college rejections, offered prizes to students with the most rejection letters and the worst letter. Harvard was honored with "most obsequious," Cornell with "most emphatic," but it was an email from Reed College that took "worst overall." The winner had emailed Reed's admissions office to check that all his documentation had been received. In response he got a misdirected interoffice memo that said, "He's a Deny."
So there's no doubt that Shipley and Schwalbe's recommendations remain valuable. As a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and a book that received critical attention from heavy-hitters like Dave Barry, "Send" will find its way to many hands. I bristle at the suggestion that it equals the stature and grace of Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," which will occupy space on my bookshelf till my demise and beyond. But "Send" promises to reach an audience that doesn't know Usenet from fishnet. And that's a good thing.