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Method, indeed style, of communication that re-invents the age when five deliveries a day had cards and letters hastening from household to household and retiring to study or morning-roorn "to write letters" was an entirely unremarkable activity.

Once friends and family start acquiring e-mail adresses, you discover the postcard quality: short notes on one or two subjects, often no need for an immediate reply. An ideal medium for 'thought of you today when ...' messages. You aren't demanding quite so much attention from the other person as if you called them. There is, of course, no reason why you shouldn't also use it for a more leisurely, traditional style of correspondence: but the pleasure of receiving a real letter is not to be underestimated.

In the context of the Web, e-mail often puts us in contact with people we don't know but do have at least something in common with, some point of contact where interests or curiosity overlap. It's all a bit like going to a party - you can be keen to get to know existing acquaintance better, looking forward to exchanging familiar views (or arguments!) with old friends, or uncertainly wondering whether the new and interesting people you meet may pay any attention to you.

And there is, of course, the risk or challenge that someone you've never even seen before may decide to give you a piece of his or her mind. This is just something we have to face up to; turning traditional advice on its head, I say we must get used to taking candour from strangers.


Metaphors are always a bit dangerous, but I think the party comparison is quite helpful here. Common courtesy suggests we would not immediately start shredding a total stranger with our criticisms; it also suggests we would not just turn our backs if someone spoke to us. So - speak as you would be spoken to; and if you give an e-mail address on your pages for people to use, do have the goodness at least to acknowledge their notes.