Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

4.1. What's so great about electronic mail?

What makes electronic mail nifty? A combination of things make e-mail the useful tool that it is. It allows you to send information: advertisements, spreadsheets, game programs, and love letters more or less privately across the Net.

E-mail is surprisingly fast. Depending on the type of your connection, the condition of computers on the Net and the phase of the moon, your e-mail message can arrive at its destination in as little as a few seconds. (OK, the phase of the moon probably won't affect your e-mail at all. The point is that conditions far beyond your control will indeed affect it.) Most messages make it to their destinations in just a few hours, but sending mail to and from some subnetworks (like FidoNet) can take several days.

E-mail is also inexpensive. It doesn't matter if you pay a flat monthly fee or several dollars an hour for your Internet access; firing off an e-mail message is almost certainly cheaper than making a telephone call, or even using the post office (affectionately called "snail mail" by Netters). Electronic mail messages can be large or small, and contents aren't measured by weight or by volume. It's also distance-independent: you can send mail across the city for the same cost as across the Atlantic.

Of course, electronic mail does have its faults. You can't tell whether your electronic mail message has been read, for instance. Also, text messages lack tone and body language, which can lead to confusing situations and mixed meanings. And although we hope for the best, e-mail isn't necessarily private. (See Chapter 12, "How Can I Keep My Privacy and Stay Secure?" for more on this.)

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