re: The Trouble with Email

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Technology is brilliant. At the touch of a few buttons, I can send my furthest-away friends in New Zealand a message, picture or video that arrives just as quickly as if I send it to a person in the same room as me. Postman Pat has now largely been reduced to being a parcel delivery guy and with an astounding 182.9 billion emails sent and received per day in 2013 (See: http://bit.ly/1hyizk5) it’s not hard to see why. Whether for business or pleasure, email is just one aspect of modern communication that has completely changed our lives. But despite its brilliance, I have found a few problems, questions and unimportant things to have a bit of a moan about!

Firstly, it’s a five letter word that most of us say or hear multiple times a day. Is it Email? email? e-mail? I am a bit pedantic about spelling and believe me, if I make a mistake on here and realise later (or worse, have it pointed out to me) it troubles me more than it probably should. I would therefore like to know how the devil to write electronic mail in its correct shortened form. For the purposes of this entry, from now on I will stick with ’email’. It’s easier to type. I should warn you, I will be tapping into my inner pedant quite a bit here. Part of the beauty of modern communications is its speed, efficiency and convenience. I value these things. However, I also quite like proper English and the idea of some basic guidelines when we communicate through cyberspace.

In the modern world, it is a golden rule that you have to reply to an email straight away. The immediacy of modern communication technology and accessibility to our inboxes almost anytime, anywhere, means that our expectation levels regarding how promptly we get back to one another have been elevated to a slightly alarming level. I’m sure this is partly down to the business world where it seems if you don’t check your Blackberry for new messages every 15 seconds, you will probably go bankrupt. I’m not a business woman and yet I often catch my thumb hovering over the ‘check mail’ button far more than it needs to be. I’m making a stand. I should say here that I absolutely want to be polite, helpful and responsive. If I’ve missed a deadline or things are getting slower than snail mail then a little nudge is fair enough. But when I get an email reminding me to reply to another email that I have barely even had time to read, I just start to think the person on the other end of the broadband fibre needs to chill out a bit. I promise I’ll reply as soon as I can and that everything will work out. If you’re really, really panicking and even the little red ‘!’ isn’t conveying the urgency of your message, you can always regress to the 20th century and phone me instead.

The world of electronic communications has also led to the development of some strange jargon. We are asked to “ping back” replies. We hope we’ve typed someone’s address correctly so that our message doesn’t “bounce”. We all hate “spam”. The abbreviated ‘text speak’ that is used widely on text messages and social media has also made its way into the world of email, despite the fact we don’t have to fit our messages into a measly 160 characters. I’ve just done an experiment. “You” takes roughly 0.1 seconds longer to type than “u”. And it looks nicer. As for “c u l8r”, well… do I really need to say anything more?

Sometimes I have to write emails to people I don’t know and may never meet. The information I have is: their name, the thing I am emailing about, my name. I write the email. I then spend 15 minutes trying to figure out how to address whoever I am writing to and what to say when I sign off. Do you go for “Hi…” or “Dear…”? Do you use their first name or a full title? Sometimes when I’m emailing an organisation without knowing who will be reading my message at the other end I have no idea how to open proceedings and end up with a creepy / cheesy, “Hi there”. As for the sign off, I definitely spend too long deciding how I am trying to portray myself and my message. This will probably get me in all sorts of trouble with people I do send emails to at some point, but here are some examples:

Sign off What I really mean
Regards I don’t know you / I’ve been forced to email you / You’re annoying me
Kind regards I’m grateful for your help / I’m sucking up / I’m trying to sound sophisticated
Best wishes I like you / I feel our email exchange has reached its logical end
Thanks Please do whatever I have asked
Cheers I’m trying to sound breezy and relaxed / Whatever is “cool”

 

I’ll also mention inappropriate kisses at this point. If I don’t really know you, we are talking about something formal, making arrangements or having a ‘conversation’ over email, I won’t sign off xxx. I don’t expect you to either.

Considering email is supposed to make our communications easier, I do sometimes wonder whether people could try a bit harder to make things more efficient. For example, on a sports team, lots of emails tend to fly around a regular distribution list to organise fixtures, give or request information and so on. When people then use a previous email to get in touch with everybody without changing the email’s subject box, it all gets very confusing. For example: you receive 10 emails about next week’s game. Somebody then decides to invite everybody on the team to their birthday party. When you’re frantically searching for the details of said party, the email about “Next Saturday’s Game” is not the first place I tend to look.

A friend of mine who works in a government office (that’s right: I have friends in high places) told me that her pet hate is when somebody on the desk opposite emails her. Now obviously there are exceptions to this rule: sending a lot of data or providing information that needs to be read and recorded may have to be done via computer. But when somebody calls across the office to you from three metres away, “I’ve just emailed asking you to pop past my desk when you have a minute”, it does make you wonder about the efficiency of how things are done in some workplaces.

‘Reply alls’ can cause no end of hilarity in a sports team. Jokes, usually at the expense of somebody on the distribution list, whizz around cyberspace spreading laughter and joy. Unfortunately hitting ‘reply all’ by mistake can also lead to that really awkward moment where you share a detail or a story with many more people than you meant to. Alternatively, you send what you think is an hysterical response to everyone, only for it to be met with no reply from anyone: a techno-tumbleweed moment.

Finally, we come to the end of emails. I literally mean the end of emails. I don’t really understand the necessity for a disclaimer that is 30 times the length of the message you’ve received. I know this is probably down to the ridiculous lawsuits that are filed for some things. However, when my phone fails to download a one line email because the disclaimer beneath it is too big for it to cope with, the main person I feel like suing is whoever invented email disclaimers.

As I said at the beginning, I think our communications technology is great. It certainly makes life easier in many ways. Some people who have made it this far down are probably thinking I need to relax and not worry about whether the subject box has been correctly filled in; to them, I send my regards. To those of you who agree with me and think we can makes things better, I really do give you my best wishes.

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