Monday, July 30, 2007

The Hobgoblin of Small Minds

I have a love-hate relationship with email. Obviously, it's great for easily staying in touch with other responsive people. But it can so easily get lost in someone's inbox (in a way a delivered letter really can't) and it's far too easy to ignore. It's also evidently spotty in terms of reliability. Quite a few people I trust have told me they never received messages from me or that they sent me messages I never received. And today, when I emailed the inaugural issue of my bimonthly email series to the people who've subscribed to it, my own daughter's copy ended up in her spam folder.

Luckily, she's someone who checks that folder in real time for misplaced legitimate email. But I cannot understand how an email from me to her could have been dumped in spam. She and I email frequently; our addresses are well-known to each other. Was it the few links I included? The date in the subject line? The fact that my message had a blind distribution list? (Her spam filter would have been happier, maybe, if I'd invaded everyone's privacy and shown the distribution list?) Why can that dumb spam about cards from "classmates" or sexual enhancement pharmaceuticals slip past spam filters into inboxes? Why do legitimate distribution list emails from websites, law firms, charities, etc. make it through one month and wind up in spam the next?

In addition to being yet more evidence that technology both rocks and sucks, this is also an example of what's wrong with using policies to deal with thugs. As we seek to screen nuisance email, we inevitably screen legitimate email too. Living in a coed dorm in college was a fun and very valuable experience, particularly for someone like me who has no brothers. But nowadays, because of the tendency of what I presume is a tiny percentage of the college population
toward harassment and rape, truly coed dorms (room-by-room) are virtually a thing of the past. Flexibility and discretion sensibly applied at work to things like dress code, hours, leaves, sabbaticals, advancement opportunities and so forth have also gone largely the way of the dinosaur, snowed under by one-size-fits-all policies.

I understand the need for clarity, and for protection against abuses of power. I also understand the desirability of consistency and of not reinventing the wheel. But policies that operate in a vacuum without human reason, timely applied, or that seek to reduce us all to the lowest common denominator aren't useful. They're monstrous.

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