Michael Willard, writer, painter, columnist, entrepreneur
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Chapter Six

E-MAIL: Duck, Incoming.

It seems the human capacity to harness e-mails is somewhat less than that of herding butterflies. Once out of the cocoon, they can never be returned and only rarely squelched. Poetically, they are Hiawatha's arrows, though often poison-tipped.

Even so, the Internet is man's best friend in the technological age. Imagine Benjamin Franklin's difficulty communicating the attitude of Parliament to those uppity colonists when a single letter took six weeks to arrive from Philadelphia, assuming the ship had blue skies and strong winds the entire journey. Now it takes mere seconds, virtually in the flutter of a hummingbird's wing.

If the Internet is down these days, we become like guppies desperately gasping for air. We have no sense of delayed gratification. That which is available 24-7 keeps us tethered to computer screens. One can only imagine a Darwin evolution several thousand years from now, with modern man having a curved spine, perhaps six fingers on each hand; and, of course, built-in eye-screens to ward off the glare. The computer has replaced the television for nightly entertainment. We send in excess of 100 billion (figures vary widely from 60 billion to 170 billion) e-mails a day worldwide, with an estimated 70 per cent being spam. From a sociological view, it has made the modern family unit even more estranged.

In today's family, a computer has become nearly as personal as a toothbrush. In my own clan, we have five computers. My five-year-old daughter is not a proficient reader yet, though she plays a computer like it's a Steinway Grand, initiating dozens of software commands that bring to her a world of imagination. My 13-year-old? God knows what she is doing since her door is generally shut, but I do hear the gentle tapping of keys. She has been warned, of course, of the 60-year-old lothario pretending to be a lovesick teenager.

The Internet represents both the greatest benefit and the greatest challenge to civil communication since the invention of the telephone. It has brought the art of letter writing back into style - well, almost. Often, our communications - even in the business world - are like guttural sounds offered up by those North Georgia Hillbillies in the movie, "Deliverance". We have become lazy, both in our wording and in our punctuation. We invent short cuts, the intellectual equivalent of bubble farts in a bathtub to us who love the English language and who hate to see creative spellings where the real McCoy takes only a millisecond longer with that other computer innovation, the spell check. While we're at it, let's admit that the spell check also makes us lazy. Thus, in a previous book, I -or may I lay blame to some editor --gave the spelling of the Porkpie hat, the head gear of choice for a previous generation of Soviets, a whimsical twist so that it became the Porcupine hat.

One small point, but let's put it on the table. Ever so often "emoticons" and "smiley faces" will creep into business communication, sort of like some viral infection that, once spread, suggests the sender is a pre-teen girl in pigtails. They don't belong there, especially the kind that bounce around through cyberspace. Words are meant to excite emotion, not silly icons.

On the plus side, the computer has made common-variety research available at a keystroke. Ask almost any question, and if Google doesn't land you on the answer in a few seconds, chances are you will be darn close. At the same time, it has rendered many of us too lazy to undertake more vigorous understanding that is best found between the covers of real books. These, I am told, are still available in most libraries.

This, too, will change. There will come a day when virtually every volume found in the U.S. Library of Congress can be obtained inexpensively through the Internet, perhaps downloaded onto an easy to read and handle viewing apparatus. For those of us who love the touch, the smell and the look of genuine books, whether leather, cloth or paperbound, it will be a conflicting period. Call it an affectation, but I love the smell of my own library, and rejoice that computerized books have made few inroads in the publishing business. However, as I write this, some knucklehead has come up with an electronic book no wider than three sheets of paper and you can fold it up, and it can store hundreds of books. A recent report said library use in the United States has decreased 20 percent. My only surprise, under current circumstances, is that the dive is not steeper.

Of course, the computer is already outdated as the only manner of Internet travel. There are some who have never hunched over a keyboard, content with the fluid convenience of a portable device as small as a wallet. Metaphorically, it is Dick Tracy's two-way, video wristwatch, only a more sophisticated version. We are "where no one has ventured to go" and we have been there since a former U.S. vice president invented the Internet - or so he said. However, for business and expanded communication aimed at moving commerce forward, the desk terminal will be around for the foreseeable future. It is on this sacred ground that the battle for comity among dueling e-mails must be joined. It is here where every day many of us become like ragamuffins fighting on the street corner, protecting our business turf in coarse language that would lead to blows if delivered the same way in person.

Just the other day, I felt compelled to put this memo out to my staff: "E-mails. I put e-mails in the category of things that can cause World War III. Lately, I have seen several that are less than politic. Please, guys, if you have a serious discussion -- one that could lead to wrong impressions -- pick up the telephone. Or visit that person's office. E-mails should be diplomatic messages, not nuclear tipped missiles."

This was not instigated by two lower level employees cat-fighting for position in our little bureaucracy, but by a managing director and a senior vice president. They had a misunderstanding over when a third employee would report for work in a different city. Both saw fit to suit up in armor, gather up their electronic swords and clash like two executive titans over the most trivial of matters. Given the opportunity of face-to-face discussion, they would have sorted the matter out in five minutes. Instead, an instrument designed to save time - the Internet - turned into a several hour creative dance over who could compose the most vindictive e-mails. Having watched the flaming messages whiz back and forth throughout the day (copying the boss is a manner of manipulative warfare), I put a halt to the process by joining in: "Guys, be nice." I was the referee on the fight card.

Our team is rather collegiate, many having been together for the last decade. The aforementioned acrimony, I would like to think, was an aberration. However, given the convenience and supposed anonymity of the Internet, many of us let our hair down, and become the equivalent of a reckless driver on an electronic highway.

E-mails have hair-triggers, and can create a kind of stealth warfare. They zing back and forth often with vitriolic language that one would never use in face-to-face conversation without blood being drawn. This is particularly troublesome when it comes to different time zones around the world. I have known someone in Moscow to fire off a particularly rabid e-mail to his supervisor in New York, only to have second thoughts about its content as the sun was coming up over America eight hours later.

By that time, of course, the nasty missile is hanging in the air like stale cigar smoke, just waiting to be inhaled by a boss who has been locked in a morning traffic jam for the last two hours and has yet to have his second cup of coffee.

Nightmare on Elm Street IV

E-mails are like horror movies; the slasher is never really dead. The darn killer is dealt a supposed fatal blow, but somehow revives to scare the daylights out of you at least twice more in the same movie. And then, there are the sequels.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, must have felt this when the Feds lassoed various offending and embarrassing e-mails he had sent and used them in antitrust action. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore must have squirmed during his 2000 presidential campaign when certain e-mails had the possibility of resurfacing. There was, at the time, the distinct possibility of opening an immigration probe relating to partisans speeding up the naturalization process, a process aimed at spurring more Democratic voting. Martha Stewart, it was alleged, attempted a stock cover up by constructing, in essence, an e-mail defense, using various and carefully constructed e-notes as an alibi. Tracking e-mails is as much a part of criminal investigation these days as is determining DNA.

How would you feel if your most hateful, most private, most intimate and most embarrassing e-mails - the ones you thought were whisked away to e-mail heaven with a key stroke -- were to be printed on the front page of the New York Times? Have you ever written anything to a friend you would prefer your girlfriend or wife not read? Have you ever suggested a company position in an e-mail that, if it became public, could be misinterpreted, causing your firm to lose millions in a lawsuit (This is particularly worrisome for tobacco companies)? Have you ever let fling an off-color or politically incorrect joke - or simply forwarded one on? Have you ever entered a chat room, the one labeled "married but looking" just out of sheer curiosity? Is that Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" knocking at your door?

The IT Guy
Quick, who's the most important person in your business organization? No, you ninny; it is not the CEO. It's the network manager, the IT guy. He is like the 1940s character, "The Shadow". He knows everything. He has access to your innermost thoughts and those of your co-conspirators, those carnal literary eruptions, those flighty semi-flirting notes to a co-worker and those mundane reminders to pick up a quart of milk on the way home. As for those proprietary business secrets, such things as salaries, bonuses, commendations, reprimands, balance sheets and so forth - yep, you guessed it, the network manager has the combination to the safe.

If you walk past his office and he has this bizarre little smile on his face, you know he has just been perusing your inner most thoughts. He (or she) has easy access to that daily diary you keep in the bowels of the box at which you peck blithely away, the one you haven't a clue as to its workings. While private e-mails systems such as Yahoo and AOL provide some privacy (there is no such thing as total privacy), the office network has none. You would have as much privacy if you walked naked to the central water cooler.

The good news is the network manager generally doesn't care. Probably the most overworked employee in the office, he has his hands full just managing the network and keeping the flow of communication going. There is something to be said that the person who has access to all the information has access to none. There are far too many megabytes of useless tripe to wade through to get to your daily secrets. Generally, the network manager having the power to bring down the kingdom, is so secure in his position that he avoids the bureaucratic wrangling that comes with executive positions. He is, indeed, a different sort of fellow. In today's technical world, if he is not God, he is god.

An Electronic Footprint

E-mails represent an electronic footprint. For a detective, your e-mails are right up there with DNA in implicating you in the commission of anything from that hair-tingling embarrassing moment to criminal events leading to jail time or the gallows. For your boss, more and more of whom are quietly spying on your electronic communication, anything you commit to e-mail can and will be used against you. As for your spouse, who can guess your very unimaginative password, God help you.

Recently, the following e-mail was sent to me:

"Fred,
"Your son, David, is not living up to his potential in seventh grade mathematics. Additionally, he doesn't seem to be trying and, as his teacher, I must warn that he is in serious danger of failing. "Mr. Gene Roberts, Holbrooke Jr. High"

My response:
"If you look on the cover of this book, you will see that my name is not Fred. To my knowledge, I have no son named David, but I can sympathize with this fellow and his junior high math. It wasn't my favorite subject."

The message, of course, was not meant for me. It was meant for Fred, but poor Fred had recently sent the aforementioned math teacher a change of address message, with hundreds copied in on the switch. Now, most everyone on the planet knows that Fred's son, David, is a real dunderdolt. (Before you think it impolitic of me to mention names, I didn't. They are fictitious.)

Ironically, my own career was aided by an errant e-mail, a copy of which I keep today in my billfold as a testament to incredible luck. The e-mail was from Tom Bell, then CEO of Burson-Marsteller, written to Don Cogman, the company's chief operating officer at the time. It read simply, "I'm okay with this. What do you think?"

In that eight-word e-mail, the chief honcho of the company had endorsed my purchase of the Ukraine office of Burson-Marsteller. I had been copied in error on the e-mail, and an embarrassed secretary quickly sent me a note saying it was not meant for me and I should disregard it. She was too late. I had already sent an e-mail to Bell thanking him for his "confidence in me."

While the then-CEO of the company could have easily decided against the acquisition by an employee, and though I would like to think the same decision would have been made, the fact that he had already given his tacit okay didn't hurt. The e-mail set off a sequence of events that led me from Moscow to Kyiv and the formation of a partnership and ownership of the Ukraine office.

Today, The Willard Group, which has spread from the original single office in Kyiv to offices in Moscow, Russia; Istanbul, Turkey; and Donetsk, Ukraine. We as well have affiliates throughout Central and Eastern Europe, the Baltic and the Caucasus Regions, making us one of the largest public relations and advertising agencies in this area of the world. Just think, it all happened, perhaps, because an E-mail went awry.

Bigger Than Life

The entire Internet phenomenon, though humbled when the dot.com bubble burst in 2000, is still bigger than life. A few summers back, the wacky valuation of an obscure startup on the outskirts of the Silicon Valley was more than the gross product of a couple of emerging nations. Today, over 75 per cent of small businesses in the United States have a web page. There are 108 million websites (as of 2007) in the world. Your neighborhood pizza joint has a web page. A web page, whether any one visits it or not, is sort of like a wolf marking its territory. It is the first act a new business commits, quickly following the creation of its corporate charter. China, which is struggling these days with controlling Internet content, had more than a 137 million users in 2007, 48.5 million of them enjoying broadband connections, second only to the United States.

Of course, your own employees will be tempted to head to forbidden web pages; porno sites perhaps, an electronic poker or card game or maybe into one of the thousands of chat rooms. Today, even the travel website Orbitz offers Internet ads that consist of cute sports games, challenging you to put off that business document for another few moments. Even the most sober of us may be caught up in borrowing time from our employer, often excusing it as a creative release. Sometimes it can lead to serious consequences.

Dave Peyton was a columnist for the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in West Virginia, and had worked there for a quarter of a century. He is no longer there because his Internet activities were monitored, and the Gannett newspaper chain fired him for visiting a porn site in violation of company policy. He had a reasonable explanation. He protested he was writing a column about how certain sites can hijack your computer, basically making it impossible to continue its use without first turning the system off and back on. He had a big interest in computers, and he often wrote about the Internet. It was a reasonable story idea.

Dave was 58 when he was pushed out of the newspaper. He filed suit for Worker's Compensation and won, in spite of the newspaper's opposition. He then went to work as a columnist for a newspaper 50 miles down the road, one with a more tolerant attitude. However, being fired from a hometown newspaper has to remain has to leave scars.

Then there was the case of a Washington judge. In June 2000, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct found that Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Randolph Furman used court computer equipment and state provided Internet services over a seven-month period to access sites for his personal benefit. It appears the solemn judge was busted for visiting, among others, sites for personal travel, finance, shopping, and, what were described as "adults only" sites. The judged was censored and agreed to resign from office.

There are more than 600 million e-mail inboxes in the United States alone, and 44 per cent of those are corporate boxes. The majority of people confess to using corporate e-mails for personal use at least 30 minutes out of each day and, from time to time, randomly searching the Internet on matters totally unrelated to business. As a manger, how do I feel about this? Well, not all that bad.

If I ran a profit-challenged company, my thinking might be different. I might be the proverbial e-mail ogre, and not the semi-cute cuddly one named Shrek. My suspicion is that not only do the lower level employees sneak a forbidden peak, but many of the top executives do as well. There is an argument to be made-though perhaps a slight stretch-- that traversing the Internet by-ways is rounding out an education that will benefit the business. Productivity is an elusive term we will explore in another chapter, but suffice to say, the view here is that it is not how many hours - even wasted hours - one spends at work, but how much actual work is done. Being non-violent, though, I do draw the line at employees playing computer games and becoming expert Stealth Fighter pilots on my dime.

However, enough is enough. For some, the Internet is as addictive as booze and gambling. If it interferes with work, it can't be tolerated. Some people actually convince themselves they are working when they are merely grazing over trivia. I have had staff people come to work on a Saturday and remind me they did, only to find out the only reason they came into the office was to check their personal e-mail. They only fool themselves.

Everyone should have a modicum of guidance, whether written or unwritten, that obsessive use of the Internet for non-business could result in a pinky being chopped off. I believe the key phrase is whether it "interferes with work." If one is using it like one would a morning or afternoon coffee or tea break, or even a smoke break, encourage them. They might accidentally learn something.

Monitoring E-mails? Stop.
Monitoring of e-mails by corporate snoops is the equivalent of the employee urine test for cocaine or other illegal no-no's. After so many years, I would have an easier time finding a forgotten Power ball jackpot ticket then I would my old bong, hidden away as I am sure it is in the bottom of my underwear drawer. My view is that e-mail snooping doesn't belong in a truly professional organization, any more than frisking employees as they walk out the door. If you are that paranoid about your employees, take a Xanex instead of acting like the Gestapo. E-mail snooping is one step removed from putting secret cameras in the toilets to hear what the employees think of management. Do you really want to know?

If you suspect an employee is doing something nefarious on his computer - such as monitoring private information to which he is not entitled; or, in fact, visiting porn sites, make sure you have the proverbial probable cause; a mere suspicion is insufficient. The last thing you need in the work place is a deer-caught-in-the-headlights employee, for fear their every action is monitored.

I am sure there is some menial job at some back office call center for some faceless corporate giant in Bangkok that does have reason to monitor employee information on the Internet on a regular basis. However, we're talking professionals here. Treat your employees as bona fide, top-drawer professionals. If a particular individual gives you reason not to do so - then fire the son of a bitch, suggesting that he or she not let the door hit them in the butt on the way out.

In the mist of this chapter, I received a relatively long message from someone described as the chief information officer of the company to which we are tethered, the global PR company Burson-Marsteller. My company is an affiliate of B-M, and therefore has an obligation to play by the minimal rules set forth, at least when it comes to matters of business ethics and utilization of network systems. The message indicated that the company had launched a new system to filter unwanted and, in fact, offensive mail. It was called SpherIQ, which sounded a lot like a parasite one might catch in the Congo.

My first thought was that I am not easily offended. I mean I watch the EastEnders soap opera on BBC Prime. I think reality shows are really swell. And for the life of me, I can't understand why Elvis Costello wasn't a mega-star. Monica Lewinsky was my idea of the girl next door. However, I am somewhat sympathetic to the Mother Ship, while at the same time wondering what e-mails this curiously named spam-busting program would spirit away. The fact is spam causes Internet providers, and one would assume network providers of all shapes and sizes, a wheelbarrow load of dollars in maintenance and the need for additional bandwidth.

Reading on, the privacy policy put forth by the company seemed rather reasonable given the fact that an organization stands the chance of being bogged down in litigation should its employees act illegally. It recognized the obvious, that employees will use the network for personal communication, and suggested that they label such correspondence private. It put all on notice that pornography or offensive or racial material could be quarantined and the material sent to the various IT administrators. The implication was that an employee engaging in such could be disciplined. However, the memo really didn't explain the definition of spam, which I believe is viewed differently. For a while, Yahoo tossed e-mails from my ex-wife into the spam file, which many people might think hilarious, but I actually get along quite well with the lady.

In summary, the CIO added this note at the bottom, which I felt rather charming: "Here at Burson-Marsteller IT, we are working to make life easier when it is so complicated already. While technology is a wonderful facilitator and expeditor, our goal is to try to make it easier for our employees while protecting ourselves and our clients." Hear, Hear.

A Word About Spam

However, despite my allegiance to our network agency, I love spam. That's an overstatement. I love what some people often call spam, but really is simply a legitimate way to reach out to possible consumers.

There are many origins of the word spam, but most believe it actually does come from a common canned meat product by the same name. It does not. It is generally conceded that it stands for Stupid, Pointless, and Annoying Mail. Being rather whimsical in a serious sort of way, I prefer the genesis of spam to come from a song by The Monty Python Flying Circus titled, "Spam, spam, spam, spam. Lovely spam. Wonderful spam." It probably never made it to No. 1.

Granted, it is slightly embarrassing when you're out of the office, and you ask your female secretary or personal assistant to check your e-mail. And surprise, up pop an assortment of ads for Viagra, penile enlargement treatments and life-sized plastic dolls. However, one man's Spam is another man's bread and butter.

Just recently the publication division of our company received an e-mail from the manager of a major cellular telephone company, someone whose organization sends out thousands of e-mails soliciting business, as well as communicating technological advances and special offers. They often also send or relay as a paid service annoying text messages to your mobile telephone for every conceivable purpose.

In this case, the executive in question had been asked to respond to a three-minute survey sent out by a part of the Willard Group, the results of which would have been printed in our monthly general interest magazine. "I don't have time for this. Take me off your list," he demanded. Didn't this sanctimonious imbecile realize that he had insulted an entire company that might have used his cell phone system? Didn't he realize he had broken the unspoken chain of business comity that generates business for us all?

A pox on him, his family, his mistress and his dog.

My reaction, of course, would have been different had there been a measure of civility in his e-mail. However, I could not help visualizing his sneering countenance as he gleefully pecked away those few words, suggesting strongly that our survey was the equivalent of pond scum. He could have written, though it would have taken 20 seconds longer: "Dear Sir, Thank you for the opportunity to read your very stimulating survey. However, I find that these days I am bogged down such with everyday business; I don't have the time, as much as I would like, to respond. Please, I kindly ask you to remove me from your list. Again, thanks for the opportunity, and I wish you continued success in your survey."-Signed: A Nice Guy.

Such a reaction would prevent two things: It wouldn't send the receiver of the e-mail into orbit with white-hot anger; and the next time the recipient received an e-mail from the cellular telephone company the this person manages, he wouldn't automatically consign it to the trash.

The deletion of an e-mail is a mere keystroke. Hundreds can be deleted in a few seconds, simply by not reading, and marking them for wholesale elimination. E-mail mass murder, if you will. The fact of life is I want the option to read most everything, with the exception of the truly obnoxious. And those, I find, no matter how hard I try to get off their lists, there is no such hope unless I could somehow find their corporate headquarters and go from office to office with the assault rifle.

Besides, such an esteemed spokesman on the subject as Microsoft's Bill Gates suggested in early 2004 that spam, like say smallpox, would be wiped out in two years. Now that's a bet I would like to have taken in that I am writing this in February 2008. However, he suggests that even though the raw amount of spam has gone up, the amount that you receive in your e-mail box is going down. He said in Newsweek that Microsoft had filed nearly 40 suits under a 2003 statute designed to prevent misleading or fraudulent spam, and one poor soul is sitting in a jail for egregious violation.

We are told that 83 per cent of the e-mail generated in the United States is so-called spam, and some Internet providers are considering limiting the number of e-mails a particular address can send to 100 per hour, or 500 per day. This seems a rather Draconian imposition on a legitimate business. A suggestion might be that mass Internet mailers would be required to apply for an international license, one that has strict guidelines as to how and what consumers are targeted. Revenue should be derived from mass mailers, depending on how many e-mails they send. The content, while not impinging on free speech, should be monitored, and what is generally considered pornography and other offensive material should be forbidden.

For reasons unbeknown to me, I receive various e-mails from financial institutions, but due to my work schedule, I rarely have the time to read all of them. However, once in a blue moon, a caption will strike my fancy, and I will learn some tidbit I would not have known if I had automatically squelched what many would consider spam.

Today there is a clubby over-reaction to spam, as if it carried with it typhoid. Often, businesses will have e-mail systems that automatically toss certain mail into purgatory, and the IT guy will brag that he has protected his office from - from what - the opportunity to be on the receiving end of an advertisement? Get over it. Would you rather receive junk mail through the U.S. Postal Service, thereby contributing to depletion of the rain forests, global warming and God knows what else?

Pop-up Ads

There is also an overreaction to pop-up advertisements. Sure, they are a little annoying, but do you kick the bejesus out of the television when a commercial comes on. Who do you think brings you the content that you are reading on your screen- the Internet fairy? Everything has a price, particularly if it is a specific website you enjoy reading. Do you rail at the advertisements you see in the newspapers? The fact is, rarely do Internet sites, newspapers or magazines make a farthing off subscriptions, but they do survive on advertising. This has been virtually the same situation since man walked upright several million years back.

I am really confused by the Internet portals that offer "pop-up blockers" on the same page they carry advertising. This is sort of like selling a gun to a hunter while, at the same time, selling flak jackets to the deer. One can only assume that within a fortnight someone will see the irrefutable illogic of the situation. If not, whether P.T. Barnum actually said it or not, there is a sucker born every minute.

Websites R'Us
The truly great thing about the Internet is also its most depressing attribute. It is egalitarian in the extreme. I was looking for information the other day. Because various words have different meanings, a picture of a well-endowed lady in her birthday suit jumped into view. More than that, she was sitting in a contortionist pose, such that her private of privates was exposed as if that was her most interesting personal characteristic. When terrorist severed the head of a hostage in Iraq, I wonder how many people sought out the website on which these cretinoid forms displayed their ghastly deed. The Internet is truly the Tower of Babel, with people putting forth every conceivable cause, in every conceivable language. It is banal, exotic, eclectic, interesting, boring and somewhat more obnoxious than your average three-year-old.

Back to Business

Our business is business, and it is on this point that many enterprises have lost their way on the electronic highway. They have placed their electronic billboards in the most obscure places, and they have been content to hang out an "open for business sign" without the slightest thought on how to get people to come through the door, other than to paint a www.com sign on the side of a red pickup truck.

These folks need help. To them, a business website is a passive directory item, not the dynamic tool for which it was meant. They are like builders who never commission an artist sketch, much less consult rolls of architectural blueprints. They have as a mantra: "Build it and they will come." They won't. They won't even pass as close as Hailey's comet.

Occasionally, there are accidental happenings. I have a friend named Natasha who is a Russian, a woman, and a photographer. Her website gets thousands of hits - mostly from horny old men who have posed these words to the search engine: Russia. Woman. Pictures. One does not need to add Natasha for various sites to pop up of available young Russian women looking for husbands. And Natasha only wanted to show off her photography talents that are genuine.

However, most of us are challenged after we open our web store to entice the customers. While this is not a book aimed at detailing the various web marketing tools, potential clients or customers need a compelling reason to go to your website as opposed to that of your competitor.

Ripping a page from our own experience, we have attempted to make our sites (we have several) interesting, informative, entertaining, and, most important, useful. If you go to The Willard Group site (www.twgworld.com), you will not only find the usual company propaganda, but you will also locate what we call a "Daybook", which is important events going on in Ukraine. Furthermore, we have links to our online magazine and our online news service. It's not star studded, with rhinestone spangles, but it does provide just a little more incentive for a visit.

We're talking, however, about a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, the Internet is to modern man what the sharp stone was to prehistoric man. A little more than a decade ago, the Internet was merely the toy of academics. To think in terms of a single gigabyte was nearly incomprehensive. Many computers still ran MS-DOS and Intel's new Pentium chip was an absolute luxury. The company that became Netscape had yet to release its browser. When George Bush Sr. left the presidency in 1993, there were 50 web pages on the World Wide Web. When his son came into office eight years later, there were many million and growing like crab grass.

So, when it comes down to it, the rules of the road have not quite been formalized, though there are dozens of websites on Internet etiquette. While there appears to be universal speed limits and international road signs, they rarely go to the heart of common sense decisions in the business world. Most are rather strict guidelines, seemingly written by my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Lucinda Pettyjohn.

The Silverback manager has some thoughts. We don't pretend they are definitive, merely reasonable. They are based on light of day workplace realities, and summarize, as best we can, the chapter.

Reality Bite No. 1: Don't write in an e-mail that which you haven't the guts to say face-to-face. If you feel compelled to write an aggressive e-mail, let it hibernate in the draft folder several hours. There is a lot of truth to Ambrose Bierce's axiom that if you speak when angry "you will make the best speech you will ever regret."

Reality Bite No. 2: The Internet is probably the most important government-sponsored invention of the 20th Century. It represents, among other things, an opportunity to bring style and grace back to the art of letter writing. Slow down. Do not dumb down your communication. Just think, what would Shakespeare have done if he had had the ease of a computer and the Internet, instead of a quill and messy black India ink.

Reality Bite No.3: Unless there is a need for a written record, or the person with whom you wish to communicate with is out of the office, do not send e-mails to business associates who are virtually within voice distance of you. You don't use your cell phone to call the person sitting in the cubicle around the corner? Maybe you shouldn't answer that question.

Reality Bite No. 4: Within the business, the Internet is a tool, just as the plastic box sitting in front of you and the software it contains. Because it represents a superhighway to both common intellect and the thrill of a pinball machine, employees are going to experience both. Treat the pursuit of the latter as a coffee break, a water cooler chat, and not the morale equivalent of serious erosion leading to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Reality Bite No. 5: The fact is, a good business environment is where a profit is made and the employees have a modicum of fun. If the business makes a profit, but people are not having fun, I personally don't want to work there. However, if great fun abounds, but no profit is made, the sad fact is I cannot work there long.

Reality Bite No. 6: Really now, how long does it take to hit a single keystroke? Alternatively, how long does it take to delete 50 e-mails. The answer is about 20 seconds-- if you have arthritis. Remember that the folks who are soliciting your business are the same types of people you are probably soliciting for yours.

Reality Bite No. 7: You are not the FBI, the CIA or the KGB. Don't act like you are. Treat your employees like the professionals they should be. The only reason to examine an employee's Internet e-mails is if there is compelling evidence that they are doing something illegal or defamatory. If this is the case, capital punishment is not out of order.

Reality Bite No. 8: Re-read Reality Bite No. 1. It will save you a world of hurt and embarrassment, even those pearly white front teeth.

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