Email: At once a blessing and a curse

André Guyon
(Language Update, Volume 6, Number 4, 2009, page 28)

Sometimes things change almost too quickly…

1994: I sign up with an Internet service provider. I exchange a few emails with friends who are online, and I read all of my emails on a regular basis. This is fantastic stuff!

2009: The use of two marvels of technology, cell phones and email, has degenerated to the point of being almost unbearable. The self-styled “big shots” now have a device that allows them to alternate between being loud and obnoxious on the phone and text-messaging “smart” comments into the ether.Footnote 1 Quite the paradox! A device combining two valuable features, the “smartphone,” can make idiots of us all.

Some of your habits can be changed, and you could suggest that your contacts do the same. The bane of email is:

  • spam
  • hoaxes
  • messages with large attachments
  • email volleys, which are emails forwarded by or replied to by recipients who may or may not have added their two cents’ worth


NEVER reply to spam! Simply add the sender to the Junk email list.


Proceed in the same way as for spam. If the sender asks you to forward the message, that should raise a red flag. Do a search using the subject line and the word “hoax,” e.g. “hoax lead in lipstick.” At times, such stories can seem so plausible that even a Web veteran can take the bait.Footnote 2

If you really must forward a message…

Bcc (blind carbon copy) the list of recipients for goodness’ sake!

Screenshot showing how to get the Bcc field

In Outlook 2003, click the View menu to activate the Bcc field.

Otherwise, unfortunately, someday a textual predator will come across your lovely and helpful chain containing thousands of names that can easily be added to spam address lists.

To spammers, your peace and email address have a market value of between 8 and 12 cents.

If you haven’t had a good laugh today, may I suggest that you take a few minutes to see just how far the human imagination can go when it comes to pulling legs?

Click: Hoax Buster

Email volleys

You know the ones—you have to read them from bottom to top, with certain nested parts that you have to reread a number of times.

I suggest you use collaborative spaces, such as forums. Generally, users can read the sequence in the order of their choice (oldest to newest or vice versa). I participate in some forums. Believe me, once you try them, you won’t want to go back to emails that are muddled up with contributions, addresses and other items.

DAs! (damned attachments)

Friends, relatives, acquaintances—they all want you to watch a fantastic video or presentation. Sometimes senders of such things just don’t get how it works. They don’t notice that Uncle Jonathan already sent you the clip of his cat opening a beer bottle and send it to you again. At the very least, I get everything three times!

For such forward-clicking relatives and friends, create a ruleFootnote 3 that directs any mail you receive from them to a separate folder, then decide how much time out of your busy life you want to spend watching presentations or videos, and delete the rest.

You could also suggest that they place their attachments in a collaborative space.Footnote 4 That way, nobody is forced to download the attachment. If I am sent a link to a video or photo site, I can select what I want to download from the thumbnails. Further, when the Nottooswift cousins decide to forward Uncle Jonathan’s new video, they can simply send the link.

Attachments in the office

At work, Manager 1 sends an attachment to Manager 2 asking her for comments. Manager 2 forwards the attachment to all of her employees asking for their comments.

Employee 1 opens the attachment, turns on track changes, and inserts his comments. He then saves a copy of the attachment under a new name that includes his initials (E1), and he creates a new email to which he adds this new attachment for Manager 2. His colleagues, Employee 2, Employee 3 and Employee 4, do the same.

Manager 2 must then open each document, read it, try to remember it, or print it if she has a poor visual memory. Then, she summarizes the comments or discusses them with her employees. Lastly, she recasts it all into a new document and sends it to Manager 1 as an attachment.

The same song and dance takes place with Manager 3 and Manager 4. Unbelievably, this happens all the time! Wouldn’t it make more sense to place the material in a collaborative space, such as a wiki, that would allow each person to enter comments? Then, using the wiki, you can compare the versions and see everyone’s entries.

Another suggestion would be to use both a wiki-type page and a forum at the same time (for comments and discussions). You can correct typos, add elements collaboratively and discuss any issues in the forum. Then, once everything is put together, a real, properly formatted document is created.

Incomprehensible emails drafted by multitaskers

If it seems that you are always receiving incoherent emails from the same person that end with “Sent from my Raspberry,” add a small zinger at the end of emails you send to him, such as “Sent while unitasking.” Some will get it, others won’t—don’t even bother trying to explain to those who don’t.

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