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Like Tom Cruise’s character in the movie “Top Gun,” we obviously “feel the need for speed” and, plainly, there are some advantages to speed in our communications: We can be more productive and efficient in our work if downtime is eliminated. Transactions can move at a faster pace and be accomplished more quickly. Employer costs can be lessened, as fewer personnel and resources are necessary to follow through on communications. Time-consuming and unproductive meetings can be replaced by e-mail communications to a group. When a record of communications is important, e-mail leaves a retrievable trail, unlike verbal communications. Employers can monitor, when appropriate, employees’ electronic communications more easily than spoken communication. There is less need for the cost and inconvenience of travel, as so much can be done through rapid electronic communications. We are not as tied to our desks as we used to be. With the advent of handheld, wireless, electronic communication devices, we are able to work from practically anywhere. These are just some examples of the advantages of electronic communications. Unfortunately, a number of negative consequences flow from our growing dependence on electronic communications. We need to breathe. Many of us feel that we are constantly “on,” as we can be reached any time of day or night through wireless e-mail, pagers and cell phones. Even with greater productivity caused by advances in information technology, we are not using this to our advantage to break out sufficient periods of leisure time. We need to deal with one another, at least some of the time, on a human level. Despite the ease and value of electronic communications, once in a while we need to shake someone’s hand and see that person’s face to truly understand his or her point of view and to forge a common understanding. Electronic communications, such as e-mail, can “live forever.” People often use e-mail just as they would chit-chat in casual conversation. Yet, unlike the spoken word, e-mail can be retrieved and used in an adverse way. Thus, we need to be careful and not as free in the drafting of our e-mails as we would be when talking to someone. The more that communications take place by e-mail, the less privacy we have in our communications � as employers, for example, under appropriate circumstances, retrieve and review the stored e-mails of employees. Because many people are still somewhat unrestrained in what they say electronically, either in e-mails or by way of postings on electronic bulletin boards and the like, it is very easy on a mass basis to inadvertently (or intentionally) defame someone else, improperly disseminate trade secrets or intellectual property, or to cause the revelation of personally identifiable details of others. Our electronic communications also become difficult to deal with when we must sift through the ever-growing bombardment of unwanted communications such as spam. And the more that we become dependent on technology for communications, when that technology is “down,” due to a crash, a virus, a worm, or other problem, deadlines go out the window. Still, there are certain things that can be done to make our ride in the electronic fast lane better. Remember to turn off your electronic communications devices some of the time so that you can enjoy the world around you. Continue to have face-to-face personal interactions some of the time. And be careful when communicating electronically � if you say what you would be comfortable having published in the newspaper, you likely will not get into any trouble. Eric J. Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris ( www.duanemorris.com), where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology disputes. This article first appeared in longer form on American Lawyer Media’s Law.com, a Web site affiliated withLegal Times.

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