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Published: Thursday, 7/29/2004

Inbox spam may cause all of us to take a letter

There was a letter in my mailbox the other day. Yeah, there's a real stop-the-presses pronouncement.

A letter Who still writes those?

Well, Mel Mull does. The one he sent me touched on a variety of topics.

Local Democratics. Toledo Public Schools. TV programming.

And then he ended his letter thusly:

This is coming to you via snail mail because my e-mail has become totally useless.

I receive about 250 to 300 spam e-mails every day, even though I have a brand new computer with virus and spam blocker.

I just won't spend the time to slowly look for a nonspam e-mail in that forest of useless stuff.

At my office we were great fans of e-mail three or four years ago, but that was before the heavy onslaught of spam.

We've abandoned the use of e-mail because of spam and we've advised our clients not to send us any important messages via e-mail for fear that [they] might get lost among the e-mail promising sexual enhancements, weight loss, and on and on.

I read that and wondered if I'd just had a sudden whiff of the light, wafting fragrance of - sniff, sniff - a possible flowering trend.

Is it really coming to this? Are we turning full circle?

Is e-mail at risk of becoming more trouble than it's worth?

I called Mel Mull right away.

"E-mail is a perfectly wonderful thing, as intended," he told me.

"But it's lost a lot of its accuracy, and a lot of its charm."

An architect, Mr. Mull said he can't afford any business miscommunication.

You can send an e-mail, sure - but who knows if anyone on the receiving end got around to reading it?

Maybe the recipient suffers from the same e-mail burden Mr. Mull says he once labored under, where going through the inbox could easily eat up waaaay too much of the morning?

These days, the architect said, "we send instructions to our clients and to contractors, but we use a fax. And with a fax, we get an activity report. We know that fax was received."

So far, no clients object.

"They understand the importance of a record," said Mr. Mull. "It's a great way to avoid lawsuits. And, of course, everyone's memory favors their point of view. 'I called you.' 'No, you didn't call me.' E-mail is unreliable from a record-keeping standpoint."

Then Mr. Mull was kind enough to say he was glad I was back in the newspaper again, after a two-week absence that left him wondering if I was all right.

"Oh, I was just on vacation," I reassured him.

"Good," he said. "You know, I sent you a few e-mails, asking if everything was OK."

"You did? Gee, I'm really sorry, but - um - apparently, I haven't gotten to them yet."

Which, now that I think of it, just goes to prove Mr. Mull's point.

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