Saturday, February 9, 2013

The elusive 'Reply' button

I'm shamefully (or do I mean unashamedly?) indifferent to a lot - traffic, crime, politics do not move me too much. But what makes me truly, deeply angry is rudeness. And I find myself thinking about this subject frequently. When you're rude to someone, you're telling them, in effect, "You don't matter". Not enough for me to bother about your state of mind. These three words are perhaps more cruel than 'I dislike you', or even, 'I hate you', because they hurt that part of our being that tells us that we're worthwhile, that we bring value to this universe by being part of it. You could, of course, say that it would be a very fragile sense of self worth if one allowed every act of incivility to hurt it. But if I did inure myself to impoliteness, would I also, eventually, become uncivil?

Not that I have a lot of right to complain. I'm surrounded by kind, generous people who are unfailingly polite and who forgive my own acts of ill-manneredness more often than not. Where I suffer most often, is when people ignore my emails. An unanswered mail, particularly when it contains a question, makes me angry at a very primal level, because I hear those dreaded words - you don't matter enough for me to acknowledge or respond to your message.

I was upset enough today to run a Google search on this. Wondering if I was acting needy or clingy for expecting prompt responses to mails, I typed "is it rude to not respond to an email" and got about 12,100,000 results. I performed a meta-analysis over the top 10, and below is a summary of this 'robust' sample:
  • 40% articles say that it is rude to not to respond to an email within a couple of hours of receiving it. "To ignore an email sent to you in good faith, especially by someone you know, is to forget that you're dealing with a fellow human being, who deserves to be treated with respect, and even with a modicum of care". (Huffington Post).
  • 20% articles suggested that this could be an 'it depends' kind of scenario, where people who were deluged by dating requests or messages from salesmen could take a call on how they wanted to deal with the flood. 
  • 10% publications were of the opinion that responding to emails may clutter our lives. "I hesitate to e-mail those people who seem to reply immediately to every single message. It's like playing tag. You're it" (Joyce Carpenter in Computerworld Blogs).
  • 30% of the search results were irrelevant to the question.
And then I found these two absolutely delightful gems in NY times that pulled me out of self-pity, and made me laugh:
  • Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.
  • Diana Abu-Jaber, a novelist, said that a few years ago she had “a whole nonrelationship” with a fellow writer in Portland, Ore., who would not hit the reply button.
There. Now I have the anger out of my system. I'm going to try and be less dependent on people's email behavior for my personal happiness. I will repeat to myself, it's not me, it's them. It's a continuing battle.

Click here for the brilliant NY Times article on the subject.

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