I don’t believe in email.

I’m an old-fashioned girl.

I prefer calling and hanging up.

—Sarah Jessica Parker

Before the age of email, people would communicate mostly by phone. If the person was not there to answer their phone, then the caller would be sent to voicemail.

Typically, in those days, the caller would get a prompt response with a call back. That was my experience working through the 1990s into today. I worked in publishing and had to make frequent contact with printers, advertisers, sales reps, employees and so forth. I was confident that if I called someone they would answer, or they would return my call after I’ve left a voicemail.

The dawning of the age of (non)communication

With the age of email, it became even easier to communicate. You wouldn’t need to know if the receiver was there to read your email when sent or not, you knew they would see it eventually and simply hit the reply button. Easy.

Around the turn of the century, it was a bit of a novelty to receive an email. Many people started out with America Online (AOL), as I did. Receiving those first few emails was exciting. We were living in the future just as I always dreamed!

Spam. A lot.

But, the emails kept coming. And coming. And, not just from friends and co-workers, but marketers, newsletter subscriptions, important updates from the cable company, special offers from the grocery store, Nigerian princes who want to give you millions of dollars, long-lost friends you’ve never heard of, etc.

Receiving and organizing emails has become a chore, an unpleasant pain in the @ sign.

Perhaps this is one reason why people have a hard time replying? I think it’s more than that.

Oh, I’ve been so crazy busy

Often, I’ll get a response after repeated attempts to reach someone. The response is usually something like: “I’ve been in meetings all day and didn’t have time.” “I’ve been out for a few days and couldn’t return emails.” (Although they were posting pix on Facebook.) “Oh, I didn’t see your email, maybe it went to spam, I’ll check.” (It didn’t. They never do.)

Some real email excuses I’ve received:

” I know I‘ve been crazy busy with the development of six novel manuscripts plus the handful of short stories.”

“Yeah, i was busy past couple of mondays .”

“It’s been crazy busy up here.”

I have been trying to get back to you all day.”

Write? Right? Wrong.

There are many articles online that suggest how to write emails that will get responses. Subject line length, paragraphs, tone, thank yous, etc. These all seem to be important things to consider when crafting an email.

This makes sense for unsolicited marketing emails, perhaps. But, is it necessary to tailor your emails to friends, co-workers, vendors in such a way that will compel them to open it and respond?

I don’t think so. I think it is just personal and professional courtesy to respond promptly. If you are asking for something the person cannot provide, then a simple “I’ll find out and get back to you by Friday,” will suffice.

Deadlines

It has gotten so bad, that I am now ending my emails with deadlines. “Please respond by Friday, May 2, at 5:00pm whether you have an answer to X question or not. Thank you.”

This, I’m afraid, works–sometimes.

This is especially maddening for anyone who has been searching and interviewing for jobs.

Good luck in your future endeavors

After you fill out the online forms and cut-and-paste your resume into the boxes and declare your status as a veteran, your disabilities, your race, your gender, your ethnicity, and then review, confirm, submit and receive a confirmation number, you wait.

Perhaps, an email will arrive in a few months. “We’d like to set up a time to speak with you over the phone.”

Great! A response.

You do the call, it goes well. You do the on-site visit. It goes well. You are promised an answer in two weeks.

You follow up with a postcard and then an email. You wait a week. Repeat. Again. Repeat.

After a while, you give up trying. Why is it so hard for companies to simply email the candidate and say, “we don’t want you”? Isn’t that the job of a human resources department?

But, you may get a surprise. Recently, I received a job rejection email. I didn’t recognize the company, although it sounded like a job I could do. I searched through my email to see if I ever had any contact with the group. I found that I applied for a job there–more than two years ago! Thanks for the reply, guys, but your response time is just a bit too slow.

A similar situation happened several years ago in which I did not get the job, got a prompt email from the hiring manager letting me know, and then six months later getting an automated email telling me I didn’t get the job–again.

I replied to the “no-reply” email and told them that I thought it was like rubbing salt into a wound and felt it was kind of insulting. I did get a reply and was told that the hiring manager never turned off the auto-reply. So there!

Samuel FB Morse sends the first email in 1844. He did not get a reply.
Samuel FB Morse sends the first email in 1844. He did not get a reply.

One could really consider the first email to have been sent on May 24, 1844 by Samuel F.B. Morse, whose message “What hath God wrought?” was emailed from the Supreme Court in Washington, DC to Alfred Vail at the B&O Railroad in Baltimore. There does not seem to be a reply, so Morse’s email probably ended up in Vail’s spam folder. And so it goes…

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