E-mail Etiquette

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The “reply all” e-mail option, a time-saver when a few people are trying to coordinate a plan, only makes me feel shabby when one of the human rights activists in my study group explains to us all, “I’ll have to miss the next class because I’ll be building wells in Cambodian villages.” Only the person hosting who’s buying the wine and cheese needs a head count. The effect of “reply all” on me is it takes hours to recover from feeling ashamed that I’ll be here, drinking bottled water yet.

E-vites, too, make information that would formerly have been private available to the entire guest list. Where it was once considered rude to ask, “Whose coming?” you now have not only the entire list, but also who has turned them down and who’s holding out for something better.

Spam is something most of us have learned to identify. We know better than to provide information to someone purporting to want to share an inheritance from a coffee plantation owner who died in a tragic car accident in Nigeria leaving no next of kin and we don’t open those that claim an old classmate is looking for us or that someone has sent an online greeting card.

Online communication requires us to be more careful, double-checking before we hit “send” to be sure the boss we’re dissing won’t get the e-mail. Our servers try to be helpful by filling in the rest of a name once we enter the first letter, and there must be legions of relationships that have been destroyed because of this.

A son who came upon, “Love you too” in an instant message intended for his father reported what he’d found, ending a twenty-four-year marriage.

TIVO asks, “Are you sure?” after you hit “delete,” forcing you to take a moment to reconsider. I’d happily sacrifice “reply all” in favor of “are you sure?”

“Are you sure?” is a step we should use more routinely. Not only might I not have made a non-refundable reservation at an eco-lodge with no hot water, but if I’d stopped to ask, “Are you sure?” there are desserts I would not have eaten, boots I’d not have bought, and advice I’d not have given.

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