THE ADVOCATE V O L . 7 8 P A R T 2 M A R C H 2 0 2 0 169
In You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan (“Shopgirl”) and Tom Hanks (“NY152”)
become fast friends exchanging wise and funny observations and
advice via e-mail. They do not realize until later points in the movie
that in real life her bookstore is about to be driven out of business
by the encroachment into the neighbourhood of his family’s megastore.
When time permits they delight in rushing to their computers to click to see
whether “mail” has arrived. It is the stuff of romantic comedy.
The movie was released in 1998, the year the Advocate’s editor and assistant
editor graduated from law school and began our articles. In the intervening
two decades, e-mail has moved from a lighthearted novelty to a
constant bringer of chores, questions, advertising, ploys to hack into our
bank accounts and computers, warnings from our IT departments about the
latest such ploy, notices of what has been caught in spam filters, etc.
Obviously we are not going back (assuming the apocalyptic events that
seem especially to loom in the Trump era do not cast us back several
decades) to the way things were when many of us commenced practice.
However, it is worth reflecting on what has caused the most frustrating
aspects of the siege we are presently under, to see if some might be abated.
The problem is partly what e-mail does to the psychology of those wishing
to communicate—in this case, the senders of the e-mails that arrive in
our inboxes. It is far easier for a sender to be heavy-handed with the volume
of output than if he or she had to pick up a telephone or physically visit the
recipient’s premises, to see that person’s reaction on being interrupted. It is
also far easier for the sender to think about what is most convenient at the
sending rather than the receiving end, as long as not exposed to the recipient’s
reaction. (As an aside, students and associates, the reaction of the person
to whom you send very rough draft documents that he or she needs to
fix, and attachments that he or she is left with the task of printing and
organizing, tends not to be positive. This is so no matter how tidy the cover
e-mail and how beautifully labelled the attachments.)