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A year ago I had just gotten online. Email was, for me, just a cute way to communicate.

Soon, a friend told me that online netiquette required a faster response than checking my email every few days.

"Hmmmph," I said. "I'm too busy to look for email every few hours. I can't respond that fast. Hmmmph. How demanding. How intrusive."

Now, I have email on whenever I'm online, which is a lot. I use email for short notes, humor, quick checks with associates in different locations. I use it to get information. I use it to find out if someone is awake and to invite them to chat online. And most importantly, I use it to transfer files (articles, web pages, images, sounds), and it is central to how I do business.

I have developed my own system for using email - and it encompasses fast responses, extensive use of attachment capabilities, and it encompasses slower responses as well - for those items that can wait.

I use email to communicate with my father who is hard of hearing. He often puts his whole message in the subject line - things like "Call me" or "I'm Home, Safe Trip" - then I open the message and there isn't one. So I call him and I say "Jeez, Dad, you don't have a message here, you've put it all in the subject line." And he laughs "Well, that's all I had to say." Ultimately one of our better communications!

I like email because I can write it and send it in the middle of the night. I can read it when I want to read it - it doesn't interrupt me like the phone. Tim, a programmer, turns off his phone when coding, but leaves his email on. It shows up as a little asterisk in the upper right corner of his screen so he can get answers to questions, read his email and not lose his train of thought. Interacting with a person face-to-face or on the phone can derail trains of thought.

Email has a more casual style than traditional business letters (I mean... really... how can I be formal with a client whose email address is littledavid and his chat nickname is WildMan2?). I love it. I am a serious business person working in the realm of the virtual absurd, and I have discovered that I don't take other business people seriously who don't use email.

Chris, another friend, goes even further. "I am not going to be friends with anyone who doesn't have email anymore! To me it says that a person is not serious about communicating. That communicating with me is a low priority for them... that they are immature in terms of 'keeping up with life'."

Ironically, I am a writer and photographer and I love paper. I love to hold paper in my hands. I love the texture, the feel of it. I love printing black and white images on paper. I love my stationery. But I also love email. I may be among the limited few who actually print out a lot of email.

When my computer crashed I was distraught - about the loss of my email and the addresses I had saved. I knew everything else could be found or re-done fairly easily. But not my email data. I was crushed.

Kristi, the moderator in my favorite chat (irc) room, couldn't do business without email. "Email is the heart of online communications," she says. Our main community for prospects and resources is online. And email, simple little email, is our primary communications tool.

For small business or large - email is important. Bill Gates said recently "If we had to pick one application that would keep running no matter what, e-mail would absolutely be it." (Microsoft Magazine Vol. 3, Issue 2, April/May 1996)

For those of us who love and depend on email (and the control we have over our lives by using it regularly), traditional phone calls can be frustrating. I called Microsoft for permission to use the quote in this article. I called and missed their working hours. There was no way to leave a message. I wasted a long distance phone call and couldn't even get the item off my to-do list. If I'd had the right email address, I would have sent it last night. And this morning I would probably have had a response.

Email - an incredibly valuable tool that helps me manage my life and my business... the way I want. I simply can't imagine life without email.

Paula Hendricks

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