Slipped Through The Cracks: E-mail Etiquette
Back in the early 1990’s, e-mail had already been on ARPANet and other closed government and academic dial-up lines for about two decades. The new AOL, Prodigy and other e-mail services were starting to roll out to the popular culture. That’s when the trouble started. People who had never written a letter before in their life were suddenly sending out torrents of illiterate nonsense.
“E-mail etiquette” suggestion sheets were cropping up everywhere. Computer clubs of the era would even hold presentations on the topic of writing an electronic letter without annoying your friends. There was no way a user could not know that typing in ALL CAPS IS SHOUTING.
Today, all that has changed. For one thing, computer clubs all tanked. Club members discovered the information convenience of the new internet. Secondly, we have a whole generation of savvy youth who don’t remember a time when we didn’t enjoy the instant access of the internet. Thirdly, much of the “Baby Boomer” generation has already embraced at least part of the personal computer, mobile device and instant social networking services of the twenty-first century.
What we offer here is mostly for the benefit of those who somehow slipped through the cracks. If you have never actually seen any of the over 4 million Google hits on a search for “email etiquette” lists, invest about ten minutes in your social networking skills and do that now.
We offer the below tips for folks who imagined they must personally re-invent customs of email usage and socially acceptability. (Horrors, how could they have known?) We offer these tips in the same helpful spirit as basic potty training. “Feel free to forward to everyone you know.”
1. BAN FORWARDED EMAIL: “FW:FW:FW” forwarding chains are generally messy and unwelcome. Many people delete them without reading.
2. NO GOOD GUY POINTS: If all someone does is forward other people’s forwarded stuff, their friends are entitled to complain that they never write, because they didn’t.
3. NO REPLY EXPECTED: Corollary of #2. People who didn’t actually write anything themselves, should expect no replies.
4. LARGE FONTS ARE SHOUTING TOO. Somewhere in the universe, there is one soul who spends all his time reformatting the gibberish of others into large, easy-to-read 36 point bond Brush Script bold italic fonting, then decorated in various Bozo The Clown bright colors. Do not, I repeat, do not do this, and don’t forward content to which others added their own creative finger-paints. That’s insultingly annoying.
5. PHOTO COLLECTIONS: OK, kids and animals are, awwww, CUUUTE. If the original photographer isn’t credited with the image content, chances are somebody’s being ripped off, and most of the time they are trying to make a living or run a website with great images like the ones being forwarded anonymously to the whole world.
6. ATTRIBUTION AND COPYRIGHTS: A lot of highly creative text is similarly circulated with author or copyright credits stripped off. If we don’t know who wrote it, think twice about forwarding a rip-off to friends who might realize that “everybody does it” didn’t cut it in grade school either.
7. SUPERPATRIOT SENTIMENTALIA based on one’s own personal trademarked, licensed franchise on Liberty and the U.S. Constitution is not necessarily amusing to the 99% of a readership who never heard of one’s own skinhead chapter.
8. RACIST PROPAGANDA: If one’s one true accomplishment in life was an accident of birth, this is one of those many things that should be re-thought before admitting in public. OK, maybe one happened to be born with an epidermis. Perhaps the country into which they were unceremoniously dropped automatically recognized them as a citizen. Or maybe they were anointed at birth with a lifetime membership in the First Zygotian Church of Gondwanaland, the One True Faith that nobody else ever heard of it. No one gets to claim credit for that.
9. BE HONEST AND ADMIT SOME FOLKS REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ: Do you know an e-mail Black Hole? What do they actually do when they receive that personalized email from a friend who asks a direct question? Do they strap on the old drool bib, let their jaw go slack and mumble, “Oh how nice, I have mail” and DELETE it?
10. “THIS IS GREAT”: If we MUST forward something, (a) It better be good (b) It’s better if it’s topical to our interest group (c) Strip out all the FW:FW:FW markup (d) Preserve any credits and attribution (e) Never read or forward chain mail (f) Give our friends credit for enough intelligence to decide what to do with their own email. DON’T add tacky instructions like “this is great” and “forward to 10 other friends”.
CONCLUSION: Email can still be fun and useful when used reasonably. 95% of the problems are generated by 5% of the users. Certainly, you can still forward content; just use common sense. “Free postage” doesn’t buy us the right to be friendly and courteous in public while insulting our friends’ intelligence behind the email ramparts.
By: Alex Forbes, www.summitlake.com ©2-8-2011
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