I've noticed this: one must be very carefully in interpreting emails, and indeed the written word on the Internet.
Emails have no context for the voice. They are not accompanied by gesture, vocal pattern, or facial expression. Much has been written about this and I won't rehash it here. However, there is one thing that can serve as a guide when trying to fathom the general feeling or intent behind an email you get from someone you don't know too well.
People over thirty think that an email message is an quicker, sometimes less formal version of a written letter.
People under thirty think that email is a slower, and unfortunately more formal version of an Instant Message.
Not that we always know the age of our Internet interlocutors. But this does tell us something about how to communicate with each other. I experimented a little with the kind of writing that might feel like the internet in my recent book Java Garage. Some people loved it, and some people hated it. It seemed from my vantage that those who were more inclined to like that book were younger, and it was young people (college age) who were the target audience.
But it was trashed by older, dare I say more vocal, readers, who I think equated its very conscious style with a sort of degeneration of culture. I have a Masters degree with an emphasis in literary theory. I know some things about writing. Like sentence fragments. When I end a sentence with a preposition, I know where it's at. Writing with gerunds and participles comes easily to me. When I split infinitives, uh, it's on purpose; I want to boldly write as no man has written before.
But that book is over, so I'm not selling anything here. I'm trying to make a point about communication, specifically in the tech world where it is crucially important to talk in a very precise manner. This is true of any engineering field (I refer readers to the scene in Spinal Tap where Nigel has the contractor make a 12" Stonehenge monolith for a concert prop).
No one has criticized the Java content of the book. I haven't seen a better explanation of abstract classes anywhere. But they hate the style.
There is an old Ray Bradbury short story called "A Sound of Thunder" that characterizes the total degredation of culture in a series of signs on shop windows and newspapers that are written with broken English--a weird, prescient mix between Prince lyrics and a typical 13 year old's AIM session.
This is perhaps a characterization with which the French Ministry of Culture could agree, as they carefully interrogate words and phrases to be admitted to the language, regardless of the fact that French teenagers use the term "blue jeans" to refer to "blue jeans". This is no different than a manager in America giving a programmer "carte blanche".
I wonder if a very meaningful case can actually be made, that the Internet is helping destroy culture by destroying language. While something in me revolts when I see a phrase such as "I want 2 b a programmer at yr company", I think it is not the language against which I revolt, but the fear that the means of expression is the only one available to the writer. When I read the inner sleeve of Purple Rain as a 13 year old, it didn't occur to me that Prince was anything short of a master of expression--something I still think. He has many means of expression available to him, and writes in what used to be an innovative way.
I am in love with language. If language can be torn down, start tearing. Break its bones. Destroy the English language, which itself, we might do well to recall, is a cacophonous destruction of German, French, Latin, and many other langauges. Have you ever read Chaucer? If you have, I bet money your reaction wasn't "Oh, Eliza, how far we have sunk into the despair of our current English language. How sad a state that we don't still write Middle English." No one thinks that because it would be idiotic. In part, it would mean that one must suggest that Shakespeare had only a paltry language available to him. In many ways, that's true. He was larger than the English language could contain. Shakespeare single-handedly contributed more than 1200 words to our language.
What would the ministry of culture say?