Advertising
Advertising

11 Things About Email You Might Not Know That Are Making You Awkward

11 Things About Email You Might Not Know That Are Making You Awkward

Are you aware of your email manners? Are you sure you’re not doing anything awkward when sending emails? Wait But Why has the answer here.

Email is one of those things that’s just a part of your life, period. Most of us know someone who has closed their Facebook account or refused to join in the first place in a little foot-stomping stand by their ego, and you might even know someone who is thrilled with themselves for not owning a smartphone.

But within the adult internet-using world, no one is allowed to not have email.

Not having email today would be the equivalent of not having a phone number—you’d have to bereally doing your own thing to go there.

And so here we all are, typing things into compose windows, battling down our inboxes, and it’s going pretty well—but like any world of social interaction, email has its difficulties.

Let’s discuss 11 particularly awkward things about our email lives—

1) Exchanges that have an unequal power dynamic.

unequal

    If someone you’re emailing with:

    • is making typos and you’re not
    • is skipping punctuation and you’re not
    • is skipping capitals and you’re not
    • is taking a long time to reply and you’re not
    • is responding to your long, well-written emails with much shorter responses

    Then they hate you.

    Unequal email power dynamics can happen for many reasons—a professional ladder discrepancy, an age discrepancy, a “customer’s always right” situation, a thing where many people are all emailing one person—but usually, it’s that the person writing the high-quality email wants/needs something from the person writing the low-quality email. Simple as that.

    2) Emailing with un-tech savvy Baby Boomers.

    Not all Baby Boomers—you know who I’m talking about.

    They’re the last remaining people with AOL email addresses. They scan a hard copy of an article and email it as an attachment instead of emailing a link to the article. They write the word e-mail with a hyphen in it. And they don’t know that “replying to all” is a thing that can happen in the world:

    reply to all 1 reply to all 2 reply to all 3 reply to all 4 reply to all 5 reply to all 6

      Sometimes, you’ll come across the especially un-tech savvy Baby Boomer who inexplicably writes their emails in all caps.

      all caps

        3) Emailing with anyone born before 1930.

        OLD

          To my grandmother, who tells me that her “machine is broken” when the browser window has accidentally been minimized, words like “forward” and “attachment” and “link” don’t have simple, concrete definitions—they’re just vague, complex ideas that she’s heard of but doesn’t understand.

          Advertising

          She feels about email the way I feel about this sentence:

          Central banks in developing countries are tightening policy and intervening in currency markets in response to concerns about the potential effect of currency depreciation on inflation, though gross issuance of nonfinancial corporate bonds and commercial paper have slowed and interest volatility has substantially diminished, possibly suggesting that reaching-for-yield behavior might be increasing again.

          If you weren’t far too lazy to write a letter, it would be a good idea to stick to hand-written correspondence with people born in the 1920s, especially since there’s the side benefit that a letter from someone born in the 1920s will be a cool thing to own in 50 years.

          4) The group email chain Late Responder.

          late responder 1 late responder 2 late responder 3 late responder 4

            5) Figuring out how to address a minor friend in an email greeting.

            To make things easy, we at some point all agreed upon certain rules and regulations for how to address various categories of people that we email.

            Greeting

              Notice the problem?

              “Hi ____” is friendly in a distant, neutral, professional way for everyone you don’t know well. When your relationship with someone takes a step forward, it graduates to the warmer, more casual Hey Zone. And with really close people, you can just skip the greeting altogether—no one starts an email with “Hey Mom”.

              But how about that green zone category of people who are more than acquaintances—so greeting them with “Hey” would seem too formal and distant—but you don’t talk to them enough to just out of the blue email them and start talking without a greeting? How the hell are you supposed to start an email to that friend from college you talk to every two years or that old work colleague you became friends with and then fell mostly out of touch with?

              It’s not easy. And unlike all the other greetings, this one requires creativity. Some possibilities:

              – Hey John! — The exclamation point says, “This isn’t a normal Hey greeting—I’m smiling and extra excited because we’re pretty close, and our relationship is a positive thing in my life.”

              – Johnny! — A typical response greeting to the “Hey John!” email. It’s acknowledging that you’re on nickname terms, and also joining the celebration of your friendship with the exclamation point.

              – Hey man — This is something guy acquaintances or minor friends do to deal with being in the green zone. It’s the greeting version of a friendly back slap.

              – Sammmm — A girl tool to deal with the green zone.

              – Heyyy — The extra Y’s say, “Just swinging by to say something, and we’re friends so sometimes we just swing by.

              greeting2

                5b) Figuring out how to sign-off in an email to a minor friend.

                Similar situation. For the distant people, we have all sorts of autofills—Best, Regards, Talk soon, Take care, Thanks, etc.—and the really close people need no sign-off at all. But for minor friends, we’ve got another whole song and dance on our hands.

                Advertising

                I’ll sometimes finish a minor friend email with something like, “Thanks,” and then look at it and think, “Ugh it’s too formal.” I then sigh, put the cursor at the end of the word, and begrudgingly type in two more S’s.

                It’s also worth noting that some people have decided that xoxo is an appropriate sign off because they’re just that adorable, and others just decided to start signing off with only the first letter of their name, because apparently we’re now dating. To me, both sign-offs make me think the person looks like this when they’re typing it:

                xoxo

                  6) Saying Robot Phrases, which reminds you that you’re not actually that unique a person.

                  A Robot Phrase is a commonly used email phrase that you end up using just because everyone else is using it and you’re not that creative a person.

                  robot phrases

                    These cookie-cutter Robot Phrases remind me of my voicemail recording being “Hi, you’ve reached Tim. Please leave a message.” The next thing that comes on is an actual robot that says “At the tone, please record your message yada yada,” and she and I are doing an equal job of expressing our individuality—but unfortunately, the only other option is to be an unnecessary weirdo by doing something surprising.

                    Email Robot Phrases are not quite as socially required as Voicemail Robot Recordings, but most of us are too lazy to deal with thinking up alternatives. Every single time I type one, though, I feel a slight twinge of self-loathing for being such a societal cog.

                    7) Mastering the exclamation point chess match.

                    With in-person interaction, we have a million subtle ways to express tone. Even on the phone, without the use of facial expressions or mannerisms, tone of voice gets the job done sufficiently.

                    But over email, we’re stuck with a crude set of symbols as our tools to express nuance, making punctuation a critical part of the email world. A few guidelines:

                    Some people don’t use exclamation points, and with those people, it’s safe to stick with periods.

                    periods

                      Others use them constantly, and with those people you’re a huge dick if you don’t, so you’re forced to join the party.

                      exclamations

                        This is important because to a rampant exclamation point user, the difference between a period and an exclamation point looks like this.

                        exclamation period

                          There’s also the rare but disastrous exclamation point / question mark mixup typo.

                          Advertising

                          exclamation question

                            I can go either way with exclamation points and tend to just follow the other person’s lead, but I find that this is a pretty strong correlation:

                            exclamation graph

                              Ellipses are a whole other thing. Some people use them to be mysterious or threatening, and of course, they can be massively slutty.

                              ellipses

                                8) The epic correspondence that neither involved party wants to be a part of.

                                epic correspondence

                                  This is a very odd phenomenon unique to email. It happens when two not-that-good friends find themselves stuck in the mutually-obligated chore of writing long descriptions of their lives to each other every few months. Both parties dread having to answer all the last email’s questions and write a lengthy life description, and each is pretty bored by the process of reading the other’s.

                                  This cycle either goes on until one of the people dies, or sometimes, someone finally gathers the guts to just not respond to the other’s email and then both parties can sigh a deep breath of relief.

                                  9) Trying to shove the concept of laughter into the email medium.

                                  haha

                                    Laughter is a delightful part of vocal correspondence, so we’ve decided we need to figure out a way to express the same thing over email—but it’s awkward.

                                    Absurd people who say lol aside, here’s what we’re dealing with:

                                    haha — I found this either mildly funny or not funny at all

                                    hahaha — I found this a little funny

                                    hahahaha — I found this reasonably funny

                                    HA or HAHA or HAHAHAHA — I found this very funny

                                    hahah or hahahah — I’m a very subpar human

                                    At least in my world, I find that when something is actually funny, it’ll result in capital letters.

                                    And in almost all of these cases, the recipient pictures the sender actually laughing as they type, when in fact they probably look like the guy in the picture above.

                                    Advertising

                                    10) The fact that hurtful things are happening to you and you’re not thinking about it.

                                    hurtful

                                      Being humored by fake haha’s is just the beginning.

                                      You know how people sometimes BCC someone on an email they’re writing to secretly loop them in? You know what you don’t consider? The times when you’ve received an email from someone and there’s a BCC happening unbeknownst to you—when you’re the chump being spied on. Kind of upsetting right?

                                      How about the fact that you’re part of a number of group email chains, some one-time things and some that are recurring—and you kind of just assume that those are the only group chains happening. When in fact, there are a number of group chains between various friends or family members of yours that you are not included on, whose existence you never really consider.

                                      Worse, think about a time you’ve forwarded an email you received to someone else for mocking purposes. Kind of mean, but you’ve also kind of done it right? How bad is it that at some point, you’ve been the subject of the secret mocking forward?

                                      Luckily, we tend to avoid assuming these things are happening. But they’re happening.

                                      11) Email disasters.

                                      disaster
                                        disaster 2

                                          The email disaster is a special kind of disaster. It can be mortifying, hurtful, or even friendship-damaging.

                                          Examples include:

                                          – Emailing Person X to say something bad about Person Y and accidentally emailing it to Person Y instead.

                                          – Replying just to Person X on a group chain to say something private and accidentally replying to all.

                                          – Forwarding an email to someone and forgetting that below the email is a whole correspondence chain that has something sensitive in it, maybe even about the person you just forwarded it to.

                                          – Sending an attachment to someone and accidentally attaching the wrong horrifying thing.

                                          Other people’s email disaster stories are a great source of schadenfreude—so if you have a good one, please share in the comments.

                                          If you liked this article, subscribe by email to have Wait But Why’s once-a-week posts sent to you by email. Never any spam.
                                          Visit Wait But Why: www.waitbutwhy.com
                                          Follow Wait But Why on Facebook: www.facebook.com/waitbutwhy
                                          Follow Wait But Why on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waitbutwhy

                                          More by this author

                                          Anna Chui

                                          Communication Expert

                                          271 Best Answers on Quora You Might Have Missed Last Year 53 Relationship Questions That Will Change Your Love Life Workout Every Day: Thursday Music Playlist 35 Life Hacks for Kids That Make Parenting Easier And More Fun 25 Inspirational Movie Quotes That Will Teach You The Most Valuable Life Lessons

                                          Trending in Productivity

                                          1The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It? 210 Best Time Management Books Recommended By Entrepreneurs 3What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating) 46 Simple Steps to Make Progress Towards Achieving Goals 5Secrets to Organizing Thoughts and Ideas (So You’ll Never Lose Ideas!)

                                          Read Next

                                          Advertising
                                          Advertising

                                          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                                          The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

                                          It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

                                          Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

                                          “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

                                          In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

                                          New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

                                          There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

                                          Advertising

                                          So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

                                          What is the productivity paradox?

                                          There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

                                          In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

                                          He wrote in his conclusion:

                                          “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

                                          Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

                                          How do we measure productivity anyway?

                                          And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

                                          In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

                                          But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

                                          In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

                                          But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

                                          Possible causes of the productivity paradox

                                          Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

                                          Advertising

                                          • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
                                          • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
                                          • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
                                          • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

                                          There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

                                          According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

                                          Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

                                          The paradox and the recession

                                          The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

                                          “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

                                          This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

                                          Advertising

                                          According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

                                          Looking forward

                                          A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

                                          “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

                                          Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

                                          “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

                                          On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

                                          Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

                                          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

                                          Reference

                                          Read Next