The Nation, Lahore

29 Jamadi-ul-Awwal, 1418 - Thursday, October 2, 1997, Lahore
Pakistan

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Midweek


Communication on the Cyber Highway

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

At the time of my admission at the University of Washington, I was in constant contact with my Graduate program coordinator. I was discussing with her different issues and she was answering all my questions promptly. It helped me a lot to tailor my application according to their rules and it only happened because both of us were using email (electronic mail) as a way of communication. Before email, it was not so easy. A letter from Pakistan took nearly 10-14 days to reach the USA and almost the same time from there back to Pakistan. So nearly a month passed before you could get a reply to your inquiry. The other ways of contact, like telephone, fax were fairly expensive but now, email has changed everything.

Email is not being used only for communication between persons who are far from each other but is increasingly replacing phone or intercom system within an office. People are using more and more email instead of telephone or going by themselves to the office next door. Why people are using this way of communication? One reason is that it is very simple and it does not disturb your's or the other's schedule. You answer the email when you have time. Which is not possible in case of a telephone call or a visit - you have to leave the work you are doing to response. It also is less time-consuming as normally, you cut short the formalities and talk to the point. The third and the most important thing is - it is very cheap and there are no long distance bills of the phone companies.

In US, there are nearly fifty million users of email, as more and more offices are adopting it as a best form of communication, the number is going up fast. In my university like many others here, all the official communication from the department is communicated through email. There is hardly any printed paper circulated. All students are supposed to read and are responsible if they don't read any important message on the email. As it is difficult to locate a graduate student, all our friends find it much easier to communicate through email. This is creating a problem also. There is too much email to read. Every office worker in the US is receiving on average, 20 emails a day. Some even receive up to 90 per day. I myself, receive on average, 25-30 emails a day. So, it is increasingly becoming more and more difficult to cope with this overload of information and communication. It is also therefore, becoming difficult to read and to reply to all of them. One of my Professor is so backlogged with these emails that he tells every one that if they want a prompt response, they use a phone instead. In the last few days, I also suffered from the same problem. I was too busy in my work and emails kept accumulating. Last night, I specially took out a couple of hours to clear these emails.

There are some other problems, too. In many offices, employers find that personal contact between employees is decreasing. It reduces the interaction and the personal touch of office work. Workers are spending more time on computers just replying to some messages, which should never have been sent to them in the first place. Some offices have actually prohibited the use of email during certain hours. They are encouraging personal contact again between employees. Then, there are business promotion emails. There are laws now to restrict use of mass email to the people who have not agreed to receive such mail. But companies have found other ways to reach you. Now there are many companies on the Internet who provide free email for everyone. But when you go there, you have to read some messages. As advertising on the Internet is becoming more and more personal, you are going to see the advertisement according to your profile. That means that you will get an advertisement of computer equipment and software if you are a high-tech person while another person visiting the same page is going to get an entirely other advertisement according to his profile. Now, filter programs are available which can sort emails according to its importance for you. It means that if you get an email from your boss, it will be displayed on the top with a flash while others will go lost amongst hundreds of emails. If you don't like typing very much you can also send a voice message to anyone, anywhere in the world by email. No matter, what problems it is creating, email is going to be the main way of communication in the next few years to come. While I was writing this article, my friends discussed with me on the email and then decided where we should go this weekend.

ŠThe Nation Publications (pvt) Limited, 1997

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