Why I Often Fail to Read Your Emails

I get a lot of email, and I get a lot of spam (a couple of my Gmail accounts collect thousands a month). Very little spam gets through to my primary account – perhaps a couple of dozen a day, because Gmail’s Bayesian filters are exceptional.

Plenty of other trash does get through, however. Images of cute animals, dumb lists of things about which I couldn’t care less, those awful nostalgia mailings… all sorts of stuff.

Because my time is more valuable to me than some of my correspondents’ seems to be to them, I have a few little tests that control how I handle my mail. You might consider them for your own use, and if you’re one of the folks who emails me, it might explain why you get fewer responses than you expect.

  • Subject line: If it contains Fw: Fw: Fw:, this is funny, LMAO, So True, Hi, or other non-specific stuff – forget it. It goes straight to the trash. In fact, I have filters set up to get the Fw: stuff; I never even see it. If you want me to read what you send, use the subject line to tell me what it’s about. That’s what it’s for. It’s your one chance to get my attention. If you can’t bother to inform me what’s in the email, it’s not important enough for me to read.
  • Attachments: Gmail shows thumbnails of all the attachments. If your offering contains more than two or three photos of cute animals it gets trashed without opening. The technical term for this stuff is “glurge.” Next to spam, it’s the number one problem on the Net. It eats up people’s time – the most important thing they have – and Internet bandwidth that someone has to pay for.
  • Links are good. Send links, and tell me what they’re about! I really enjoy making up my own mind about what I want to read. Makes me feel powerful… and far more serene.
  • Photography is my hobby; I used to get paid for it. Spare me the pictures of garish sunsets, purple dolphins in a turquoise sea, and all the puppy dogs and kitty cats. This is a good photograph. If it meets that standard, send it along by all means.
  • If I want inspiration, I have several books by the Dalai Lama. I’m not interested in something forwarded to you by the woman who casts your horoscope.
  • I don’t respond to pleas to sign petitions, forward email to benefit cancer victims, etc., because all that stuff is bogus! Take the time to check it out at snopes.com. Don’t have time? I don’t, either. Don’t send me something that might do some good, or might be accurate. Check it out, or don’t waste my time with it.
  • Forget the politics and religious stuff. Politically, I’m Progressive. Religion-wise, I’m an agnostic Buddhist; I don’t know, you don’t either, and if you don’t meditate you’re not listening.
  • Know that if your offering is biased racially, ethnically, or with respect to gender, it’s going in the trash… and I’ll be the judge. Your email address may follow. I find that stuff painful, and it causes me to think a great deal less of you personally.
  • Send simple, unformatted text. I like to decide what’s important for myself, without a bunch of boldface, underlining, caps, and other insults to my intelligence. If your email looks like a cheesy advertisement, I’ll treat it like one.
  • Email accounts are free, for goodness’ sake! Get one of your own, and use it. Shared accounts are awkward at best, and can cause embarrassment at worst. Go on – you deserve it.
  • If you’re passionate about something, go do something about it! Then write to me and tell me what you did. I know the world’s a tough neighborhood. What are you doing to improve it? Now that’s interesting!

Email is a wonderful thing, when it’s used to impart useful or interesting information, or to forge real connections. Unfortunately, 99% of it is garbage. Why? Because people don’t think before they send or forward. If you had to write it out by hand, then take it to the mailbox and spend 41 cents to mail it, you’d be more respectful because it was your time and effort.

Why not be just as respectful of mine?

[tags]glurge, trash email, mass forwarding, spam, email etiquette[/tags]