A few weeks ago, all 800 participants of the Test of Metal mountain bike race with e-mail addresses received a personal communication between organizers that referred to one participant that wanted to withdraw from the race as an "A-hole." She accidentally sent the message to every single person on the mailing list, including the person she was referring to.
She apologized to the person and to everyone who received the letter, which she claimed was written in the heat of the moment and not intended as a real insult.
Besides a poor knowledge of how her e-mail program works, and checking to make sure her message was heading to the right place, her biggest mistake was writing and sending a message in the heat of the moment. Ever dial a number on the phone and forget who you were calling when the person on the other picks up? Ever call somebody angry and then regret your choice of words?
Over the past decade, e-mail has become an integral part of our daily lives, like a toothbrush or the telephone. Its so commonly utilized that its almost ritual, an indulgence we fit into the gaps that we probably once used to make phone calls and chat with co-workers and family.
It makes it easy to stay in touch with the rest of the world, whether its for work or for pleasure. Its personal, its arms length, its as long or as short as you want it to be. You can be formal, you can be rude. Spelling and grammar dont seem to matter, and you can usually write a letter off the top of your head.
Yet clearly its not perfect.
How do you begin a letter? "Dear" might be okay for hand-written letters, but its seems too formal and dated for the e-mail medium. Right now, too many e-mails begin with "Hey (name)!)"
How do you end a letter? With a "Yours truly?" A "Sincerely yours?" An "F the Man?"
And what on earth should you put in the middle?
If someone writes you a long letter, are you compelled to write an equally long reply? Do you forward every little list of pick-up lines and petition that lands in your inbox?
One e-mail etiquette site ( www.iwillfollow.com/email.htm ) gives the following advice:
1) Dont be a novelist. While its okay to go into a little bit of detail with friends and family youre not in regular touch with, some people get dozens of e-mails every day and just dont have the time to read a book. Besides, in the hierarchy of sentiments, hand-written letters are better than phone calls, and phone calls are better than e-mail. Cough up for the long distance you cheap bastard.