More about e-mail etiquette, heartfelt communication

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 1, 2011

Last week’s column on George Churchill’s Golden Rule for forwarding e-mail unto others as you would have others forward e-mail unto you sure drew some great responses.

But first, George contacted me with one further guideline that’s applicable not only to forwards, but to all e-mail: Use helpful subject lines.

“The subject line of the e-mail has to be specifically relevant to the content of the message,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but it should be descriptive.”

Subject lines that say things like “Just watch,” “Amazing,” and “Awesome” tell the recipient nothing. But subject lines that are specific are not only more likely to tempt the recipient to open a forward, but help immensely in filing it, should the recipient want to save it for future reference, George said. Consider how much more useful the following are: “The Royal Wedding,” “11 Reasons Women Stay Single,” and “How Irish Dancing Started.”

The subject lines of even those magnificent PowerPoint presentations can be tuned up to be more specific than just “Nice photos,” he said; for example: “Old West Photos” and “Africa in Black & White.”

Here, then, are some responses from our other coffee companions:

From Ontario, Thelma Rhynas wrote:

Bless you, George! How I hope everyone takes your message to heart, especially the part about deleting the names of all those people who have received the e-mail before and passed it on. They take only a few seconds to delete, but so many of my e-mail pals do not do it. The Golden Rule is right on! This is a keeper!

From Bow Island, Alta., Fred Monk, former pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cochrane, wrote:

When people add my e-mail address to group mailings and fail to use blind copy (Bcc), I generally send them a friendly reminder that doing this shows a lack of respect for the recipients, and I include simple instructions on how to use Bcc. In some cases, I have blocked the sender from access to my e-mail account when they continue to violate this basic rule of e-mail etiquette. I am also amazed that so many people still do not understand that when THEY WRITE IN CAPITALS IT APPEARS THAT THEY ARE SHOUTING. I also find it very annoying when people send chain letters. It is safe to say that most are hoaxes and should be deleted, not forwarded.

Then there’s this note from Jim Hillson, pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church in Cochrane:

It is good to have a column on this topic. In addition to what George notes, there is another area of e-mail activity that needs addressing: the issue of how e-mail is used to inflame already-troubled situations. A "church war" becomes very hot very quickly when people start sending things to a wide list of readers, and then others use "Reply All" to keep the fire burning. So I suggest two additional rules: Do not forward anything unless there is clear permission to do so from the original source; and do not send an email when you should be talking face to face.

The importance of talking “face to face” lies at the heart of a response from Sandy Corenblum, of Calgary, my longtime mentor in matters Jewish. She wrote:

E-mail etiquette is becoming much too heavy for me. We should better hone in more on our behaviour face to face. People have become so serious about their Facebook, twitter, e-mails, etc. Why are we slaves to these technologies, instead of doing what is important in the world – loving each other, helping watch over one another and bringing about peace? I don't see that e-mails do any of the above. I am always so happy while away for six months of the year not using my computer at all. I take time to speak to people voice to voice, face to face. I read more, listen to more music, commune with the Big Guy and find inner peace. When Hashem [God] sends me an e-mail, I may change my mind.

Although I appreciated where Sandy was going with this, I replied that, over the years she has been one of my most faithful coffee companions, our interaction has nearly always been by e-mail.

I said that, yes, I agreed that it’s becoming all too easy to substitute technology for face-to-face connections. In defense of e-mail, though, I reminded her that it was through her wise use of e-mail that she had watched over me and helped me become a better human being. “For this I thank you,” I e-mailed her, concluding, “I think you have achieved a good balance.”

And maybe that is the operative principle in all of our high-tech versus face-to-face communication these days: striking a good balance. Thank you, everyone.

© 2011 Warren Harbeck

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