For purposes of my job, I am on a few email listservs. These are the lists of many people with similar interests or jobs or professions who all share questions and answers, announcements, news, et cetera pertaining to those things. One of the most important, for me, is the Missouri Library Association (MLA) listserv, from which I usually get several emails every day. Some I read, some seem of less importance.
A while back a local public library posted a job announcement on the MLA listserv. It carried the usual professional and educational requirements, a job description, and the proposed salary range. Soon after I saw it, a response came to me—as it came to hundreds of people on the list—from a woman who listed herself in her signature as a library science student, a prospective librarian. The gist of her message was, ‘No wonder this position is empty! The salary is terrible!’
Of course she didn’t mean to send this to the whole list. She thought she had forwarded this snarky little comment to one friend of hers, but whoops! Now she had revealed herself, at this early stage in her career, as someone who not only made such comments, but who had unrealistic expectations about what a starting salary for a librarian might be. (The salary was perfectly reasonable, and if she did not think so, she may want to reexamine her dedication to the profession. Nobody gets rich in Library Land.) And perhaps she had revealed herself as someone who does not know how to use email very well.
Yesterday on the MLA listserv there was a job announcement from the library at a Missouri university. Soon after it was posted, there came from a librarian at another university the comment that, ‘wow, they sure do go through people over there!’ Again, she had meant to share this comment with one friend, but had sent her denigrating comment to hundreds of Missouri librarians and library employees. Soon she issued an apology; the person who had listed the job posted a defense of her library as a great place to work, et cetera.
All of these problems could be avoided if people just learned to use email well. The problem in both of these exchanges was in misunderstanding, or misusing, the three basic ways one can respond to emails: reply, reply all, and forward. I don’t want to get into explaining here what each of these mean, and most people reading this probably understand it already.
But learning to use email well also means considering whether the thing you want to say is really worth sharing, or whether you should just stifle the impulse to comment and get on with your day. I was at dinner the other evening with three friends, all men who employ people. They all described warning employees about loose emails. Never ‘fire off’ an angry email, they all agreed. It’s usually written and sent in haste, and more often than not regretted within moments.
With the proliferation of social media (anti-social media, some have taken to calling it) we see the lessening, if not the demise of civility, and people share what were once personal viewpoints, misinformed opinions, and misdirected anger with ever-wider audiences. Misuse of email is much the same.
Perhaps this is why so many people still fear email. We conduct weekly sessions , we call them Computer Questions Days, to help people improve their computer and online skills. It is surprising and a little distressing how many folks one meets who are nearly terrified of the idea of using email. But clearly, even people who think they are perfectly comfortable with the technology have a lot to learn.