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June 28, 1999 -- Newsletter #34
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GOODIES TO GO! (tm)
June 28, 1999 -- Newsletter #34
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Did you hear...
++ Gary Kasparov is going to play the world in chess. He makes a move -- then you log into www.msn.com and suggest what move should be made to counteract his. The move that receives the highest suggestion rate is performed. What do you think? He'll kill up inside 25 moves right? I'm going to go in every day and write "Bring out the Queen! Bring out the Queen!"
++ Remember a year ago when the government graded itself on Y2K? It got a 'D.' Well, they spent the money, upgraded, and now have given themselves a 'B!' Hooray! As a teacher, I always think it's best to allow students to retake tests and grade themselves. It seems they always do better. (Sarcasm added for effect).
Now onto today's topic...
You work right? I don't mean all of you. I have a lot of readers out there who are younger and are still attending middle and high school, but for the most part, you have jobs. Well, do you have e-mail at those jobs? Over 85% of you do, according to some polls. And if you do have e-mail... how many do you get a day? A bit or an avalanche?
I get buried. Academics adore e-mail. We've actually stopped talking to one another -- especially we Communication professors ;-). So, I was reading through my favorite computer-related Web sites the other day and I ran across a story about a survey paid for by Pitney Bowes, Inc. regarding e-mail in the work place. Dig these numbers:
Last year the average worker received 6% more e-mail than he or she did the year before. "So what?" you say. Six percent ain't nothing. True -- unless it's six percent of a large number. The average worker (note "average") receives 113 messages per day and sends out 87.8 per day. We never do quite get around to finishing that 88th e-mail do we? Hmmm...
Now, since this is an average, some of you are taken aback by the numbers. Some of you think it's right on and some of you are scoffing at the tiny e-mail people. I happen to think it's pretty close to the truth. And I'm not talking about the e-mail barrage to HTML Goodies, either. I expect that to be well into the hundreds. I just mean at my teaching job.
There were mornings when I would easily run into one hundred e-mails. That's before the day even got going. And let's be honest, most of it is crud. If you're like me, you once attempted to simply delete the ones you thought were useless by reading the Subject line. Then it happened. You got a call later that day asking if you had read the e-mail the boss sent about investing in the lost diamond mines that will make everyone rich. Once I actually deleted an e-mail that said "Something for you" in the subject line. There was no name in the return space so I figured it was some mass mailing about how I could get rich quickly or get my associates degree in gun repair. I axed it. Later that day the Vice President of the school wanted to know why I deleted his letter about employee bonuses. He had placed a tag on the e-mail that would tell him if people had read it or not.
Needless to say, now I have to read every one of these e-mails.
The article claimed that people use e-mail so much because it is so easy to scan and toss. Plus it doesn't cost as much in time or space as paper does. True -- but all those little scans add up. If you only spend 20 second on each e-mail, 100 hundred e-mails adds up to over a half-hour.
The survey said we receive an average of 113 and send back a little less than 88. I think most of us can account for the mass of returns. It's something I call "Getting the last e-mail in." Why is it that people (I do it, too) have to constantly reply and reply and reply? I understand one reply, but it always seems that when I get an e-mail and reply, the other party feels they must reply, too. Then I feel like I have to reply. And as we all know, these replies can be such stunning and stimulating conversation.
Original: Come to my office at four for a meeting - Joe
Reply 1: OK, I'll be there! - Sally
Reply 2: Good enough! - Joe
Reply 3: Okee Dokey - Sally
Reply 4: Super Duper - Joe
Reply 5: Stop replying! - Sally
Reply 6: You got it! - Joe
Reply 7: Thanks - Sally
Reply 8: You're Welcome - Joe
Reply 9: See you at four - Sally
Reply 10: I'll be there - Joe
And on and on and on. Don't tell me you haven't gotten caught in this type of vicious circle. You've probably participated in one. I do it all the time. Sometimes I keep replying just to see how long the other party will keep sending me back e-mails. We professors do a lot in the name of research, you know.
What bugs me further about all the replies is something I call "parroting." When you reply, you're given the ability to include the original message in the reply, right? Most of the time e-mail programs are set by default to do it. That means that every e-mail contains everything that was said before. Not only that, most programs put greater-than signs next to the text that is being replied. After a while, the text at the bottom of the e-mail has a row of twenty greater-than signs next to it:
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Meeting in my office at four.
In a faculty meeting one time, the Webmaster told us all that he keeps a copy of every e-mail we send. I laughed out loud. I got a mental image of him actually sitting there reading every one of these replies. It's a thankless job.
So, what happens to the 25 e-mails (on average) that do not get replies? I think we all know what they are. Most have the FWD: mark in the Subject line and consist of the latest Clinton or off-color joke, silly picture, or attached AVI file. Our faculty secretary lived for those kinds of things. I was right across the hall so I got every one. Heaven forbid you ever reply to one of these. Then the person sending the letter feels you should get every one. More e-mail.
Other non-reply e-mail includes those mass company e-mails asking if anyone has found an earring or notebook that someone lost. Round about the end of the semester at school, everyone's e-mail box fills up with, "I need a ride to..." e-mails.
Plus, there's the regular slew of get-rich-quick, tips on the stock market, an amazing new product, and penny off on your long distance calls e-mails.
And who in the world came up with allowing people to set e-mail importance levels?! Every e-mail I get, no matter how trivial, now has two red flags next to it proclaiming great importance. Often the subject line is written in all caps and carries seventeen to twenty exclamation points. I know it's really important when two of the capitalized words are HELP ME.
Right before the semester ended here at school, a faculty meeting was called. One of the items on the agenda was to find a way to eliminate e-mail on the server to free up space. The Webmaster wanted to delete e-mail after a certain time. I suggested the time frame should be the longest break other than summer plus three days. That way you can get to your e-mail when you return. It was voted down. Not enough time, one man said. Of course, nothing was decided and the e-mail server continues to fill up.
I should talk. This newsletter is just another e-mail sitting in your e-mail box. Go ahead, reply to me (but not the news- letter). Then I'll reply to you. Then you'll reply to me... etc., etc., etc.
And that's that. Another newsletter in the can, so to speak. Thanks for reading.
Joe Burns, Ph.D.
And Remember: Ever wonder why candidates for president "throw their hat into the ring"? It's a sports euphemism. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, boxers used to travel from town to town offering to fight local tough-guys. A ring of spectators would be set up and those who wished to challenge the professional fighter would literally throw their hat into the ring. That's also why a square boxing platform is still called a ring. Two facts for the price of one...