Means of communication

From recent e-mail:

I’ve been a long time reader of LL and have never been able to figure out how to email any of you, but I just found your Stanford site linked on your LL page. I hope it’s okay that I’m emailing you here.

And from e-mail back in August (to my Stanford e-address):

You had comments turned off, sorry to bug you at work.

(Relevant passages bold-faced.)

My correspondents are implicitly drawing a distinction between means of communication used primarily for social interaction and those used primarily for more serious purposes. These days, social communications are done by talking on cellphones, by various forms of texting, via social media like Facebook and Twitter, and in comments on blogs, while more serious communications are done primarily via e-mail — in particular, e-mail to “business addresses”, maintained by educational institutions, business firms, and the like.

So my correspondents were wary about mailing to my Stanford address, which is the only one they found, because it’s a business address. Well, for many years the only e-mail accounts I had were university-associated, and I continue to use my Stanford account for almost all purposes, reserving my gmail and .Mac accounts mostly for backup.

Note that my August correspondent would have preferred to send their message as a comment on Language Log — where it would, unfortunately, have started a thread drift, since the message was about something that came up incidentally in a posting of mine, not about the actual topic of that posting. (See Ben Zimmer’s “Zoological analogies” posting on Language Log, where right from the first comment, the discussion developed a wandering unrelated thread on the spellings A WHILE vs. AWHILE and other instances of separated vs. solidified spellings.)

In both cases, I think that sending me e-mail was the right thing to do. I could then, if I wished, just disregard the mail, or save it for the future, or reply briefly, or do something substantial with it.



2 Responses to “Means of communication”

  1. irrationalpoint Says:

    From the snippet you’ve given of the messages, it’s not entirely obvious that their preference was to comment in the thread. My experience of receiving and giving comparable explanations is that they are face-threat mitigators — a way of saying “I’m sorry to be taking up your time”, and in these cases, there’s the additional bit “especially your work time”.

    The way the face threat mitigation is packaged is interesting in the ways you’ve discussed. But the commenting issue might mean that they couldn’t work out an appropriate non-work way of reaching you, rather than that was their preference (unless there’s other indication that they really did want to comment).


  2. Decline of traditional e-mail « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] fogey that I am, I still prefer e-mail, as I noted in a posting a while […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: