Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is E-Mail Evil?

My heart feels so heavy tonight.  I think that I'm a product of a bygone era.   While I am a huge user of social media, I have tried very hard to use it for useful purposes or for just plain fun.  I have not always been successful, but I have tried.  I do not post anything related to my job or any issues that I may be having with friends or family.

Then there is e-mail.  E-mail can be our best friend or our biggest enemy.  It makes our lives infinitely more productive because it allows us to reach as many people as we need to about a whole list of topics all in one fell swoop.  However .......

Unless your name is Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren or Mother Teresa, you may occasionally word something poorly.  Or hastily. Without adequate thought, or adequate care and consideration. Imagine that this happens when you are addressing a whole boatload of people.    How many of us have had an occasion to admit that "perhaps I could have worded that differently..."  It does not take a super special idiot or evil person to word something poorly in an e-mail with a large distribution list.

And then there are the e-mails that never should have been sent in the first place.   It would seem that the art of calling someone on the phone is lost on the majority of the population.  You know, the thing is .....  most of us have a cell phone.  And in case you haven't noticed, lots of people screen their calls on their cell phones.   So, if you're really THAT nervous about calling someone about something, chances are pretty good that you'll be able to leave a message - preferably a coherent, thought-out message - which will give the recipient the chance to think about the topic before he or she returns the call.

If I thought anyone would take me seriously for a second on this topic, I would propose the following "Rules of Mass E-Mail Etiquette in the 21st Century":

(1) Topics that have the potential to be controversial or sensitive should not, repeat NOT, be discussed in e-mails.  Please discuss these in a group meeting, I beg of you.  For the love of God.

(2) If you are beginning your message with "I have left John Doe off this distribution list because ....", or " Please do not repeat this to Jane Smith, because .....",  you should probably rethink the purpose of the e-mail.  See #1, above.

(3) Don't write the next epic novel.  I've been guilty of this too many times myself.  Nobody wants or has time to read it.   Try to pare it down or turn it into bullet points.   Save the prose for your blog, or,,,, go ahead and really write the next epic novel.

(4) If you really need something urgently, don't send an e-mail and sit stewing while the minutes tick away without a response.  People are not glued to their e-mail.  Pick up the phone and call - see paragraph 4 above.

(5) On the flip side - if you are a group that relies on e-mail a lot, set some rules for responding to e-mails in a reasonably timely manner.

Since nobody will take these rules with anything but a grain of salt, I think we have two choices to ensure that e-mails do not bring down civilization as we know it:

(A) Use simple sentence structure and words containing no more than two syllables.   Bullet points whenever possible.  This leaves the least room for misinterpretation.  If the e-mail can't be composed in this manner, then it probably should not be composed at all.

(B) If you receive an e-mail that does not meet the criteria as described in (A), read it at least three times.  Then read it out loud.  If you find it offensive, DO NOT REPLY.    Give yourself 2 hours and read it again out loud.   If it still feels offensive to you, DO NOT REPLY.  This means do not reply, do not reply to some,  do not reply to all.  DO NOT REPLY.  Call the sender on the phone or meet the sender for coffee.   For the love of God, engage in real communication.  It will feel awkward at first, because you are so out of practice, but never fear.... it's like riding a bike!

Our grandparents are rolling over in their graves.

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