Jane Wakefield: You've got mail

Bob Geldof is famous for his dislike of Mondays but perhaps less well known is his hatred for email.

Despite joining the ranks of the dot-com millionaires with the launch of online travel site deckchair.com, the former Boomtown Rat and current saint admits this week -- in an exclusive chat (I would like to call it an interview but it wasn't) with ZDNet -- that he can't stand email and won't ever read it. In fact he finds the whole Internet experience a bit crap as do his wonderfully named children who, according to Geldof, logged on to barbie.com, pokemon.com and beaniebabies.com and thought they were all "shite".

But it is for email that Geldof reserves the giant's share of his not inconsiderable wrath. He sees it as part of a gradual invasion of American e-speak which he likens to "the rape of the English language". And while I think rape is somewhat overstating the case, email has definitely attempted to fumble in the back seat of the car with our noble linguistic traditions.

For a start, writing an email is a whole different experience to writing a letter or even making a telephone call. Although a kind of email etiquette has grown up there are none of the formal rules that apply to letter writing. At school I remember whole lessons devoted to the art of letter writing -- showing us how to lay out letters and when to use "yours sincerely" and when to use "yours faithfully". I doubt that equivalent lessons exist for email, leaving it in a kind of linguistic limbo where anything goes. Smily faces made out of brackets and punctuation marks is something I find about as funny as I used to find people who could make the word BOOBLESS on a calculator by holding it upside down.

While I would like to think of myself as something of an email snob, I myself am guilty of taking little or any care over email. A recent note -- which by email standards was fairly articulate -- received a curt one word response from me. Judging by some of the emails we get in the ZDNet cyber post bag I am not alone. "Send me details" and "It's all bollocks" are just two examples of recent missives. Send me details of what? What is bollocks? (They can't of course be referring to the ZDNet News site which is so far removed from bollocks it is almost a eunuch.)

Email can also be strangely addictive. The few surveys on how much time is wasted reading and responding to email suggest that quite a lot of our working day is devoted to our mail boxes. A quick unscientific survey in this office reveals that between one hour and five hours a day is devoted to the noble art of reading and writing email. Which would make most managers turn pale with fear (if not for the fact that they too are furiously tapping their keyboards sending the latest picture of monkeys pooing on people's heads to all their friends and family).

Email seems at first to be the ultimate communication tool and without it the Internet would probably still be hanging out with the geeks rather than being invited to dot-com launch parties with the beautiful people. Its ability to connect you to people you might otherwise not get in contact with is often lauded as one of its greatest attributes, but I am not so sure. As people find themselves increasingly unable to be out of contact -- with mobile phones and email following us wherever we go -- so too are we finding it harder to shake off the people we don't really want to talk to. Imagine how much easier it would be for the couple on holiday that you promise to visit after one too many tequilas to get in touch if you gave them, heaven forbid, your email address. Two or three messages and you will find yourself on the M1, heading for a weekend break at their semi in Dudley.

Because there is something about email that you can't resist. It is so easy to put off a making a phone call or writing a letter but email is so easy, so quick that it demands an instant response. A few ill-thought out words and one click and it's gone. Irreversibly gone. And that is where email will have its downfall I predict. Internet lawyers and heads of large corporations are already getting their knickers in a twist over the dangers of letting their employees loose with a mouse as they realise that not only is email a time waster but a potential disaster for their business.

The head of Disney famously emailed his cartoon empire's financial results to a journalist before he had told his staff. Norwich Union employees found themselves embroiled in a libel case after gossiping about a rival building society on internal email.

In fact cases of employees sending the wrong thing to the wrong people are mounting by the day, so enjoy it while you can. I predict that in five years time email in the office will be a pleasure of the past. And with the government snooping on what we write at home the shelf life of free and easy Internet communications is definitely numbered. In fact the only consolation for email fans is the planned EU ban on spam.

So go on send that email. Respond to the office geek that has sent you six mails asking you if you fancy going for a drink. Hell, even go for a drink with him.

Bob Geldof doesn't know what he is missing.

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