It can't be argued that email has changed the way we share information. It has changed the speed with which thoughts, ideas and messages can be transmitted, and it has also changed the way we communicate. Instant of sending and instant reception of emails gives them an ephemeral quality, that contributes to their informality. At the same time, their ephemeral nature is deceiving. If you write a letter to someone it would take them some effort to pass on its contents, if they wished to do so. At the very least they would have to take the time to show it to someone else; at its more complicated they would have to make copies of it and distribute them my mail. Emails, on the other hand can be instantaneously forwarded to literally thousands of people with the press of a few keys! It is for this reason that I am always surprised at how careless or sloppy people are with what they write in an email.
A friend who works for a big city firm tells me that its general policy with emails is, don't send an email which you wouldn't want anyone and everyone to see. I think that as a rule of thumb it's a good one. The speed with which an email can be sent I find particularly frightening. It can be written and sent in the heat of the moment. Never a good idea! In my last job I made particular use of the draft folder. More than once an email was sent to me that really p*ssed me off, and I found myself responding to it immediately. I quickly learned that this is not the best of strategies. Instead, I began writing the immediate response and setting it aside. Just because we can instantly send emails doesn't mean we should. Equally I've learned to take as much care in writing an email now as I do with writing a card or a letter. Why not? It still has my name at the bottom of it, and I wouldn't send even a quick written note with bad spelling and poor grammar. Why should the speed of an email's execution and delivery mean that clarity and good form should be compromised?
There is no doubt that emails are an amazing piece of technology. It has allowed for me to keep in touch with people I would not otherwise been able to do so; and to re-connect with others I had in fact lost touch with altogether. Applying for jobs and communicating with possible employers and search committees has been accomplished with a speed and simplicity impossible even 15 years ago. I love using them, and find it odd when others do not or are unwilling to use them. (Someone actually told me that he was not 'on email' as a matter principle. What the 'principle' was I wasn't really sure and didn't even bother to ask. I just moved along). But like all new technology, I think that we are still growing into it, and as we do the strategies of previous 'technologies' should not be altogether discarded.