I participate actively in the email culture. Like most people I know, I use email from everything from work communication and checking in with friends and family, to discussing issues with my rabbi, my kids’ teachers, and even our family doctors. It’s fast, convenient, and for better or worse, we can go back to old emails to recover information if necessary. What’s not to like?
I’ll tell you what’s not to like–the sheer amount of messages in my inbox. The joy of email’s ease and speed will drown me, drown all of us, if we don’t get things under control soon.
In the technology section of last week’s New York Times, writer Jenna Wortham raised similar concerns about the impossible task of staying on top of messages that require a response. In her article “When Email Turns From Delight to Deluge,” Wortham noted that to tame our inboxes, “etiquette and expectations need to be established much as telephone etiquette evolved until there was common understanding about not calling too late at night or during dinner.”
I could not agree more. Although it will take time to notice concrete social and professional norms for email, I would like to offer one suggestion that would significantly cut the amount of messages in our inboxes as soon as tomorrow. People need to stop replying “to all” for no good reason.
While there are countless practical reasons to write a mass email or text, there are few excusable ones for sending a response to the entire group. For example, if your brother-in-law shares an adorable picture of your nephew in a Purim costume, it’s unnecessary for the 15 other family members on that message to receive any one person’s response of “Cute!” Isn’t that why we have Facebook? What’s worse, now that one member of the family has responded to the group, the others on that email feel they must do the same for fear of seeming uninterested in the aforementioned nephew, Purim, or both.
Let’s look at a more complicated scenario. If I’m making dinner plans with friends, I might send an open-ended question to everyone coming along such as, “Where do you guys want to go on Saturday night?” In this case I see the benefits of “reply all” since it makes sense to conduct this electronic discussion efficiently. However, once the restaurant choice is established and I offer to make the reservation, I do not understand why each person must send their response of “thanks” to the entire list. If you’re the person who sent the original email, it’s not a problem since you would receive the messages either way. But if you’re anyone else on the “cc” list, it’s maddening.
I could spend the entire day coming up with situations that require sending a group email. I cannot, however, see why any of us must receive infinite versions of “Mazel Tov,” “Great,” “See you then,” or, “she’s so adorable.” We must make replying to all when a response to the original sender is all that’s required and useful so socially and professionally unacceptable that the practice eventually stops. Who’s with me?