Email is a funny thing.
And can be an annoying thing, which is where all the rule-making comes from, I think. I belong to several online loops for writers. I’m even president of one–a deeply ironic development since I hadn’t belonged to the group all that long before I was elected. Every day I discover something else I didn’t know. Yesterday, in the course of conversations with our webmistress, who is trying to take our site from pitiful to adequate, we discovered that there are a whole bunch of standard emails being directed to people we’ve never talked to. Along the lines of email@example.com — and it’s going to someone who isn’t the secretary and may not even be a member anymore.
The whole online-group thing has this impenetrable quality that way. It’s like this huge underwater octopus –only there’s something more like 300 tentacles–and you can only see fleeting glimpes of the eye or tips of the tentacles now and again. The surfacings are when people send email. I love it when I can IM with people because I have a better sense that I can grasp them. At least it’s a real-time interaction, more or less.
Anyway, I emailed one gal asking who she was and what was her niche in the group, which turned out to be this whole sub-group I didn’t know about (reference: every day = something I didn’t know). She wrote back — yay! not everybody actually answers — with a detailed, complete message. I was hammered under a day-job deadline, so I popped her email to the webmistress, fully intending to write the woman back later. As it should be, she and the webmistress engaged in email conversation on the mechanics of what each needed — and I got a reproving note to let her know when I cc or forward her emails.
Does this strike you as odd? It’s this whole loop etiquette thing. You’re not supposed to forward anything off-loop without permission. This wasn’t on-loop, but I did have a vague idea that many of these ladies expect that as a courtesy. They also have this deal about when and how to “clip” the original message, so the emails don’t get so long — it has to do with reading on digest. Now I use email all the time. I’m on email all day. I work in an office in Wyoming with people in Boston, New Hampshire, and Florida. Unless I’m on the road, all of my business interactions are virtual. And it’s interesting to me that the professional email rules are different than those developed by these social groups. My work email gets archived for three years and can be used as evidence in a court of law, for or against me.
I’m keenly aware of what I write in emails and make sure that if, say, my boss or ethics officer, were to show me a copy of one and ask me to defend the content, I can. The fact that any of my emails can be forwarded, cc’d or bcc’d is a given. Asking a client to notify me if any of my emails are forwarded or cc’d is beyond the realm of possibility.
What I’m coming to is, I suspect it’s a generational thing. The older generations — the Boomers and the Silents — have been understandably appalled at the informality of the internet and the consequent lack of universal etiquette. I think some of these writing loops were established by people like this, the presidents of their chapters, the esteemed leaders. There’s a bit of the ladies’ society, junior league aspect to the romance writers collectives. The thing is the Gen X’ers and my cohorts — I forget what group I’m in… something like the straddlers between the Boomers and the X’ers, have been using email for pretty much all of our working lives. It’s just another tool.
I understand why people want to try to tame this animal, to break it to the harness of polite society, but it will never be the embossed, hand-written thank-you note. (Yes–horribly mixed metaphor.) I’ve been having computer issues with my personal laptop, as you know. Turns out my hard-drive tanked (ten days after the warranty expired). What with one thing and another, it took a month to get it fixed. (See? and I never ranted about it!) I’d been viewing my personal email all that time on the work laptop, but when I fired up the personal laptop again, it finally pulled all my personal emails from the server. There were nearly 1,500 of them. This does not include junk mail or anything work-related.
It gives me good perspective on why I have no patience for “netiquette.” Give me an email with all of the back and forth retained, so I can save one copy of the entire correspondence. No, I’m not going to pause and think to let you know that I forwarded your information to the person who needed it. I can see where the laments come in here, how our fast-paced society has done away with the measured grace and manners of the past. But it has. The world turns and times change. I think it was a Boomer who said that.