The Shrubbloggers



Thanks for checking out our blog. Don't forget to browse the archives.


What kind of a stupid name is "The Shrubbloggers"?    |    Why is there a "2.0" next to the crappy logo?    |    You could well starve if you feed on our RSS.

Epistolary Ethics
September 18, 2005 — 1:28 pm

Back on July 23, I wrote, “Someone once asked me how I determined the order of the ‘People I Know’ over on the right side of the page,” and listed the random criteria I used to determine the order. About a month later, I got an email message from my pal David Brown, which said:

SOMEBODY???? How fleeting is fame, and memory! That was me! I asked that question! Where’s the credit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(I removed 20 of those exclamation points — no fooling — to spare the poor tables on this page from overcrowding.)

When I was writing that piece I almost quoted David’s email to me, with attribution. I’m always hesitant, though, about quoting personal email without first asking permission. I probably should’ve written to ask, but I was in the zone, ready to write, finish, and post that entry (which I’d been kicking around in the back of my mind for a long, long time), so I opted for the generic “someone” instead. But taking a cue from Hearst (wasn’t it him who supposedly said something about how you shouldn’t worry about getting a piece wrong — because the when you make an error and then publish a correction, you end up with two stories instead of just the one!) I’m using the incident to write yet another piece, this one about the dilemma of quoting from personal email.

Is there any real protocol for quoting email? It seems like it could be seen as a real violation of privacy or friendship if you haven’t received permission in advance, at least while the person is alive (I’m sure someday we’ll be treated to anthologies of email correspondence sent by famous figures). This might be mitigated if the email message in question was sent to a public or semi-public discussion forum, and although I’ve only referred to email from such a forum, it still makes me vaguely uneasy to do so. It exposes someone’s writing in a context for which it wasn’t originally intended, and while in a way it’s not much different than quoting from an article that appeared in another place, email is different. Even if it’s in a discussion forum, and even if the content seems innocuous, there’s some small, perhaps unconscious, presumption of limited privacy among group participants in most such forums.

It’s a little different quoting someone anonymously. I once quoted a work-related email message without attribution, along with my response. But the following day, I quoted my brother without permission. I wasn’t entirely sure whether he’d mind, but I figured I was on safe ground with that particular message since the message wasn’t about anything personal — and, after all, he’s my brother.

In the blog entry that started this, I quoted email from Justin without explicit permission. But he’s basically like a brother too, and besides, he’s quoted far more embarrasing stuff by me. If I don’t complain, he doesn’t get to either.

But not all friends and acquaintances are quite that close, so more discretion is warranted. I have blanket permission to quote email from Michael Malice, granted to me a couple years ago after I asked whether I could quote him for an entry about South Park:

for future reference, feel free to quote me on the site unless I say otherwise.

But I’m probably on shakier ground quoting email sent by my cousin Jake, particularly with the kind of fanboy attention some of his work has been receiving lately. I always like to talk about his job because it seems like one of the coolest gigs in the world to me, but I think he tends to prefer staying behind the scenes.

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

 « Previous Entry

Next Entry »  


No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



Eric D. Dixon

Places I Go: