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E-mail speed fanatics finally slowing down

March 30, 2002 

Electronic mail's immediacy is its strongest point. While the send-and-receive cycle on a physical letter can take weeks, e-mail allows you to accomplish a year's worth of communication before lunchtime. This is perfect for people who hate wasting time, along with the interminable wait imposed on those who play within post-office rules.

E-mail rules were quite different, actually requiring this immediate response. An answer to a letter through the post office could arrive three weeks from the time it was mailed and you'd think no less of the correspondent. It would be twice that time before he would be considered rude.

E-mail, on the other hand, qualifies as an extreme sport. If you didn't answer within 24 hours (everyone logs in at least once a day), then your correspondent might wonder what the heck was going on.

I remember one instance a few years back when I sent out a query on a Friday and actually became irate when it remained unanswered the following Tuesday.

This manic behavior could never last.

As "normal" people are using e-mail as a way to communicate, they have brought with them a certain sanity. You may send a letter to such a person, who might wait several weeks before responding. You just save the three days or so it takes for the missive to creep through the mails.

As we've gathered more converts, this majority forces a re-evaluation of an old rule, that any message worth answering deserves an immediate response.

Today, people are allowed to write back when they feel like it, and no sooner. "Because you can" is no longer a good reason to run your life at hyper speed.

So here's the agreement: E-mail speed fanatics need to take a deep breath and trust their correspondents to answer within a reasonable time.

The correspondents, however, need to be sure to include the text of the message to which they are responding: Anyone who craves an immediate answer probably won't remember what they wrote yesterday.

Hot mail, cold heart: While it is still supposedly free for the normal user, Microsoft's HotMail recently launched a value-added option that includes 10 MB of storage, the ability to send large attachments and virus scanning. Plus (for $19.95 a year), the service won't cancel your account if you don't log in for 30 days. But as reader Andy Grow points out, when you try to create a new account, you are locked into a screen that allows you only to choose the paid option and enter credit-card information. Writes Andy: "I can't get past the screen forcing me to pay $19.95."

I sent my crack investigative team out to help Andy and others like him, and they solved the mystery. At the bottom of the screen in super-teensy type you can "click here" to get the free account. This situation requires one of two solutions — Andy could get powerful glasses or Microsoft could place a link to the free service where a normal person could see it and feel like they actually have a choice.

by Charles Bermant. Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

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