In the early 1990s I worked in the Information Technology Library for the Provincial Government. The internet was still in it’s infancy and email as we know it now didn’t exist.

We had some cumbersome interoffice email systems that didn’t communicate with each other. If you were in Profs/OfficeVision you couldn’t send email to VAX All-in-One).

The mail cart came around three times a day and we all learned now to manage the piles of paper on our desks. We took time to read memos, product catalogues, reports, correspondence, etc.

We took time to write our replies and package-up our documents in interoffice envelopes for internal to government delivery or regular envelopes with stamps for mail outside of government. We moved a little slower and thought a bit more deeply about everything we wrote.

Sometimes we received gifts from the book companies or promotional items from stationary companies. We were always excited to receive a postcard from a co-worker who was on vacation in some warm or exotic country.

Postcards didn’t just get read by the intended recipient. They were read by the mailperson, the people in the mailroom and by the people who saw it sitting in the mail cart as it made the rounds. No one seemed to mind. We all understood that postcards were public communications; private communications were sealed in envelopes marked private or confidential.

Today, we are trying to figure out how to communicate on-line through social media. How much do we reveal about our personal lives and how do we promote our businesses without looking like we’re just trying to make money and don’t care about our customers. It’s a delicate balance.

Now I realize that when we say, “don’t put anything in email that you wouldn’t put on a postcard“, that there are people who no longer understand the reference. There are people who receive all their communications electronically and the only place they’ve seen a mail cart is on TV or in the movies. They have no experience with passing a postcard around and reading someone’s friendly “Weather is great; wish you were here.

The message I want you to understand is that any electronic communication is like a postcard. Even if you mark it private; even if you lock-down your facebook profile and only accept tweets from friends; once your communication is out there, it can be forwarded to anyone to read. There is no real privacy on the internet.

So when you write, think about the postcard. Think about how everyone can read what you have written.

Be personable, but not too personal. Be real, but be safe.