The Joy of Email

Dave Barry makes a rare appearance with a review of Send, a book about email and its pros and cons. Here is the review and I would be surprised if it did not resonate with all.

One bit struck me as quite interesting:

I’ve become so dependent on e-mail that I sometimes wonder how we ever got by without it. Imagine, for example, how useful it would have been for Paul Revere. Instead of having to climb onto a horse in the middle of the night and ride through Massachusetts spreading the alarm, he could have simply whipped out his BlackBerry, fired off a quick message to the patriots in Lexington and Concord, then gone to sleep (unless he also had TiVo).

Of course there might have been problems. Since Revere was typing with his thumbs, his e-mail probably would have said something like, “teh nritish are cming.” As a result the recipients might not have grasped the urgency of the message. The Concord patriots might have assumed it was mainly intended for the Lexington patriots, while Lexington might have assumed Concord was going to handle it, and we would still be British subjects today. I’m not saying that would be a bad thing; I’m just saying it was not what Revere meant to accomplish.

This is an interesting game theory problem do with ‘common knowledge.’ In the horse or hmail scenario, the first recipient knows that the other does not know and can act accordingly. In the email scenario, they don’t and there can be a coordination issue. Ariel Rubinstein picked up on this problem the first time he received and sent an email in the 1980s (I blogged about that last year).

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