LIANE HANSEN, host:
Today NPR begins a new series about e-mail, which too often is becoming a burden rather than a blessing. Many of us have friends or family members who love to forward messages, hoaxes, urban myths, political calls to action. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this story on the junk mail that comes from your kin.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Deborah Burton has an ongoing disagreement with her 75-year-old father, Clyde Burton. He sends her lots of email.
Ms. DEBORAH BURTON: The ones that I cannot stand are the chain emails. If you don't forward this to ten people within five to ten minutes, doom and gloom and, you know, you will have no financial luck, etc. So, I have asked him to please never send me any chain email letters, but he still does.
Mr. CLYDE BURTON: Chain e-mails, but sometimes, you know, they may be entertaining occasionally. I may have sent her something like that.
NOGUCHI: You could say Clyde Burton has a lifelong affinity for mailing things. He was a postmaster in Gloucester County, Virginia for 37 years. He retired and discovered email. He now spends hours exploring the Web where he finds things and sends them along. These include music, pictures and warnings about computer viruses.
The list of recipients, besides his only daughter, is long. He sends them to his best friend, who lives an hour away, a brother-in-law who doesn't share his political views, general acquaintances and neighbors. For a man whose career involved postage and mail carriers, email is like magic.
Mr. BURTON: It's so easy. Double-click your address book and send now and it's gone.
NOGUCHI: But what do you do if you're on the receiving end or if the emails are totally false or make you mad? There's a site that collects hoax letters and urban myths that circulate on the Internet. Snopes.com evaluates the truth of the claims.
There's a popular email about Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. It claims he doesn't cover his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance, but that's not true. There's another one about robbers using ether-laced perfume to stun victims in parking lots. The site says that's also not true.
But aside from basic truth squadding, there's a sticky issue of having to say, I love you, Grandma, but the emails you send are annoying.
Ms. DIANE GOTTSMAN (Founder, Protocol School of Texas): Though it makes it more difficult because it is family, so we are more apt to be more courteous.
NOGUCHI: That's Diane Gottsman, founder of the Protocol School of Texas. She fields lots of etiquette questions about email, in particular ones from parents directing their children to back a political candidate. Her advice is to call and ask to be taken off their list. And if that doesn't work, she says it's okay to go nuclear.
Ms. GOTTSMAN: Filter them out; block them.
NOGUCHI: Fighting email with email is futile, she says. It reinforces bad behavior. Email escalated a political fight in Laura Corvis's large family. The exchanges got nasty and caused a huge rift.
Ms. LAURA CORVIS: When you see them in person at, like, the next family party, there's this weird awkwardness because everybody's kind of gone after everybody else on the email list, but now you're in front of everybody and you're supposed to be nice at, like, a holiday party or whatever and so nobody acknowledges it.
NOGUCHI: Now, with a new election season, she said the family email is again in full swing.
Ms. CORVIS: You know, I'm often horrified. People I've known my whole life and have grown up have such radically different views, and in the era of instantaneous information, they can constantly remind me of that.
NOGUCHI: At least for Clyde Burton, he says often his intention isn't so much to warn of viruses or bother his daughter with chain emails; it's just an excuse to reach out.
Mr. BURTON: I'm probably not a person that would say to Deborah I love you very frequently, and that's not a good trait. I understand that. But I can tell her that in an email. Why is that?
NOGUCHI: Why is that indeed? Whatever it is, email seems to liberate us to speak our mind to the benefit and the detriment of our families.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
HANSEN: Tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, how the increase in volume of email actually makes us less productive.
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