There was a time when the topics for this column were product- and industry-oriented. Things have changed. For the past week I've found...

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There was a time when the topics for this column were product- and industry-oriented. Things have changed. For the past week I’ve found inspiration from family and friends. While products are always important, it is nice to take an extended sojourn on the human side of technology.

Last week I caught up with Shane Oden and Jennifer Harman, a young Marysville couple who are distant relatives by marriage. Both in their mid-20s, they have grown up with e-mail. And recently, they have grown to hate it.

While both are forced to use it at work, they have almost cut it out of their personal lives. Harman checks her personal e-mail box once a week, if then. And during these periodic connections she finds little of value.

Both Oden and Harman said the same shocking thing when I asked them about their e-mail habits: “If I want to talk to someone, I just call them on the phone.”

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How retro.

They came by this dislike honestly, with both sets of parents playing a role in the disenchantment.

Oden used to call his parents every weekend, talking for an hour or so each time. They covered the same old ground, but the connection was still comforting. Somewhere along the line his father suggested that he send e-mail to go along with the calls. So he would send detailed accounts of his week, attaching pictures of fish he caught along the way.

Harman, who worked as a marine biologist, was stuck on a ship for months, where e-mail was “delivered” twice a day by satellite. She also wrote long narratives about her life, sending them through what had become her only lifeline.

In both cases, the parents offered cursory, disinterested responses to these prose masterpieces. Harman would bare her soul, then get a response like, “That’s nice dear; call when you get to shore.”

Here, the parents were committing a serious e-mail etiquette breach. While business communication should be only as much or as little as needed, personal interaction seeks a balance. If someone writes you a personal electronic letter you owe it to him or her to give at least as much as you get. This doesn’t require you to count words. (In fact, a message from a professional writer like myself is worth more than stuff from people who aren’t paid by the word.)

Rather, it means you should return the same quality and insight as you received. People who bare their online soul deserve a point-by-point response. If you can’t provide that, at least give them more than the virtual equivalent of a conversational grunt.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at