Would you trust someone who never uses email?

By Felix Salmon
September 11, 2009

Jackie Speier (D-Calif): Do you use email?

Hank Paulson: Do I use email? No, I don't use it, personally.

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Remember this?

Jackie Speier (D-Calif): Do you use email?

Hank Paulson: Do I use email? No, I don’t use it, personally.

JS: You don’t use it personally, or professionally?

HP: Yeah, I just don’t. So I’ve never used it for any business communications. Just never use it.

JS: So while you were secretary of the Treasury you never used email?

HP: No.

JS: How did you communicate with people?

HP: Telephone.

I wonder if Eric Falkenstein had it in mind when he wrote this:

People who meticulously avoid email should not be trusted, because it is simply too calculating, as if they know they are regularly committing crimes. A phone conversation can always be disavowed, you just say you were talking about last weekend’s bar mitzvah.

(Via Weisenthal)


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Eric’s quote, while interesting, sort of misses the point. Did Henry Paulson avoid email because he diabolically didn’t want to be held accountable for his words? Or is it more likely that it was because he has no concept of the reality that the rest of us all live in?

I suspect that the reasons are as much practical as calculating. Even ignoring the problem of spam, too much time is wasted separating the worthwhile from the frivolous. Donald Knuth, one of the worlds premier computer scientists, has forsworn email since the mid 90′s for just this reason.

Posted by Deinst | Report as abusive

“suspect that the reasons are as much practical as calculating. ”

Oh please. The occurrence of felonious behavior is far higher on Wall Street than it is in Computer Science departments.

Posted by Jon H | Report as abusive

If all traffic — voice and data — is being filtered through government computers, would we have a record of his phone calls? They surely can’t record all calls and preserve them all, but they could record all calls and transcribe them, couldn’t they?

I’m not sure that I want someone daft enough to e-mail anything of consequence running things.

This is the biggest load of horse crap I\’ve read from the paranoid conspiratorial left-wing numb nuts for at least the last few hours. Think about it ding bats. Nothing is stopping someone who uses email from picking up the phone to reply to an email.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

I don’t think Paulson avoided email because of the permanent electronic paper trail, he probably avoided it for the same reason a lot of older people have avoided it – they’re too lazy or stupid or afraid to figure out how to use it. Or maybe he doesn’t think he has to do work like typing on a computer, and he just wants other people to print stuff out for him, and then he tells them what to do. In any case, not a guy I would want to run the US treasury.

Posted by KenG | Report as abusive

Warren Buffett and Carlos Slim have both admitted that they rarely ever use computers. And they are more successful than we are. Why should they bother?

1 – They have secretaries and staff for that sort of thing. Must be nice.

2 – Email is plainly inferior to a phone call in many instances. A single phone call might require 30 back-and-forth emails to get the same information across.

3 – Email is great if you are a person trying to get information to someone without interrupting their day. If you are important enough, its no big deal if you interrupt other peoples’ days: they are there to have their day interrupted by you.

If you are a person with a lot of gravitas and you want to make sure your message is received *now* and understood *now* your are going to speak directly to someone.

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Mr. Paulson is a Harvard MBA, 1970, and there’s an attitude in that crowd from that era that leads them to prefer to say “I don’t use computers, I have people who do that for me.” The sense is that their time is too valuable to waste on low-level clerical tasks such as e-mail. OTOH, Bill Gates and other mega-wealthy tech executives exchange lots of email. It’s a different world with a different sensibility.

if he doesn’t even use it in his personal life, I’m with the camp who thinks he’s too computer-phobic to learn. An email address is required for most worthwhile things on the internet (even commenting on Reuters ;) ). And, really, spam isn’t that hard to avoid.