Strictly confidential

It’s still hard to get your head around the small miracle of being able to shoot documents from your desk half way round the world in mere seconds.

E-mail is little more than a decade old, but has totally changed the face of the daily grind. We can work more or less where we like, and take our deadlines to the very edge. It’s spawned an informal, to-the-point language, allows queries to be resolved in an instant and cuts down on unnecessary conversations.

OK, there are some downsides. Dodgy pharmaceutical spam, phishing and so on. And it’s not the most forgiving medium for hearing you’ve lost your job or been dumped by your girlfriend/boyfriend, but overall, the pros far outweigh the cons. E-mail has become so ingrained in our everyday business, that we take it for granted. Just think how lost you feel when the server’s down and you can’t click ‘send’.

So why is it that when everything else is so carefully and craftily branded, e-mails so rarely reflect the personality of the company that’s sending them? These days, they’re one of the most ubiquitous forms of corporate communication – a plump, vine-ripened opportunity to make people come over all warm and fuzzy, or so you’d think. Instead, most e-mails seem to have come from lawyers with a hangover.

I’m talking mainly about those menacing disclaimers you get at the bottom. They’re unpleasant and insinuating, written in a quasi-legalese that has nothing to do with the rest of the message. If they spoke plainly, they’d be saying, ‘If you dare so much as look at me, even a tiny peek, I’m coming after you. I’ll have the Old Bill knocking on your door at four in the morning and you’ll be lucky to get away with six in Strangeways, you conniving little weasel.’

Now, you know they’re not referring directly to you, because you are indeed the ‘intended recipient’. But it makes you think. Is this how they talk to innocent bystanders who’ve done nothing worse than open the contents of their mailboxes? Or is this actually a veiled warning – ‘We’re getting along fine right now, but if you ever dare cross us, see just how nasty we can get. Watch your step, Sonny.’

You wonder quite how the wording was agreed – after the annual boardroom arm-wrestling contest, perhaps? Or maybe the same disclaimer has just been endlessly cut and pasted, like some Chinese e-whisper that has gradually become a truculent parody of itself? Would this piece of macho posturing stand up in court if someone did ‘use, disclose, distribute, copy, print, or rely on this correspondence’ in some way? I doubt it.

Give me a quote or a poem – something to remember you by. And why don’t you designers make it look a bit more punchy and interesting while you’re at it? Give the Andale Mono a break – most of us are on broadband now and have big enough pipes to receive a bit of creative html.

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Jim Davies

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