Watching the comments on Andy Baio’s post on Infocom is endlessly fascinating for me, as I’m the Web host for the Interactive Fiction Competition, which is organized by my good friend Stephen Granade. Just earlier this week [or was it last week? They’re running together], I had been telling Dr. Boom at lunch that he needed to check out Waxy. Heh.
I think my favorite thing is how Stephen just matter-of-factly points to Baio’s entry, too … me, I wouldn’t have been able to resist discussing how I would be freaking out if internal emails were getting posted on the Internet. Of course, I realized long ago that I was only one forward away from any of my emails being read by the one person I least wanted to see them, privacy disclaimers I might make to the contrary.
An aside, because I think it’s worth considering: email from 25 years ago was far more likely to be for-the-record, memo-style stuff than what you typically see today in business. There certainly was a lot less of it sent [as we were less used to it as a communication medium], and so everything was more focused—and, sometimes, strident. I think this accounts for some of the tone you see in some of the emails that Andy reproduced, and I think the following quotation makes my point:
I just wanted to clarify in writing what we discussed about “Restaurant” last Tuesday — what I will and will not agree to.
I will not sign a blank sheet of paper: I refuse to take responsibility for “Restaurant” in the state it presently is in — not knowing who is creatively in charge, how much thinking has actually been done, or how much of a script is written. …
— Amy Briggs
Consider the difference between this opening and most of the business email you send and receive. Do you write stuff like this from time to time? Sure, we all do. But those are the emails that we stay after hours to write—or, better, sleep on and write first thing the next morning. But it would be a mistake to not recognize that many of these emails were of a for-the-record nature, the kinds of things that make positional statements, and as such sound more assertive than we’re used to.