Monday, November 06, 2006

Lincoln's T-mails and our email

Steve Rubel says that Abe Lincoln's use of the telegraph sets a good example for bloggers. Turns out Lincoln was the first president to make wide use of the telegraph and, therefore, the first who was forced to master the demands of electronic communication. The story is told in Tom Wheeler's book, Mr. Lincoln's T-mails: the Untold Story of How Abe Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War.

To paraphrase Rummy, "we go to war with the technology we have."

Wheeler's website includes a page of advice for writing better e-mails based on Lincoln's practices:

Face-to-face is better than electronic. (Julie Riegel, a colleague at Apple would say, never put bad news in an email. Use email only for praise. If you have criticism, walk down the hall or pick up the phone.) Lincoln's hierarchy was 1) face-to-face, 2) carefully composed letter, 3) telegraph.

Words are important
. Yeah, yeah. This advice applies to all writing, but Wheeler offers a great example in a telegraph message from Lincoln to Grant:
"Hold on with a bull-dog grip, and chew and choke."
Less is more: Need I say more? I mean, need I say less?

Lincoln would visit the telegraph office at the War Department to scan all the traffic--whether or not it was addressed to him. Hmm. A regular one-man NSA.

Lincoln may also have originated the sarcastic flamer. When Gen. McClellan wired to explain that he was not advancing because the army horses were fatigued and "sore-tongued," Lincoln wired:
"Will you pardon me for asking what the horse of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?"
Mickeleh's Take: I'll spend some time with Lincoln's T-mails. Maybe this blog will get better. Maybe I'll start reading other people's mails.