Is there an electronic-age version of Amy Vanderbilt out there? I\’m in urgent need of coaching in email manners, specifically Reply All.
Say I want to send a bread-and-butter email to someone who had me over for wine- and-cheese. Should I share my message with others who also attended? My instinct is to only write to the hostess, to avoid clogging up my friends’ mailboxes with my gushings, but then I worry that they, whose exquisitely worded thank-yous have been ricocheting through the Cloud, will think that I am forgetful and/or ungrateful.
In fact, the dilemma begins before the w-and-c event, with the original invitation. Even if this is in the form of a group email, my reflex again is to reply to the hostess exclusively, she being the one who needs to know how many mouths to feed. But it occurs to me that perhaps she would like each of us to share our responses in hopes that this will generate esprit de corps and ensure a decent turnout. So just in case, I hit Reply All.
Then there is the Get Well Soon email. A group of women gets together for dinner once a month, but this time one of us has come down with a cold, and emails to say that she won’t be able to join us. I prepare to send condolences, and to urge her to take care of herself, drink plenty of fluids, etc., ending with assurances that she will be sadly missed by everyone. As I sit down to compose my message, I notice that there are already half a dozen emails in my inbox from other group members expressing identical sentiments.
I write the email, but when my finger is poised over the Reply All button, doubt assails me. Does anyone other than the sick woman really need to read my caring clichés, my hackneyed healing thoughts, my dull albeit heartfelt wishes for a quick recovery? On the other hand, if I don’t share my message with the entire group, will they think me lacking in compassion?
The temptation to click Reply All stems from its usefulness in certain situations, as when individual members of my dog-walking group write to all the others saying whether they plan to brave the sub-zero wind chill or stay home, thus avoiding the distressing spectacle of a single walker with dog, waiting in vain for the rest to show up. From there, it is a slippery slope to hitting Reply All all the time, just to play it safe.
I don’t know about you, but life often feels like an unruly horde of dilemmas, a herd of bulls determined to impale me on their horns. This morning, even before I could make coffee, I had to face a life-and-death decision about a tiny field mouse (velvety black fur on the back, silky white belly, one-and-a-half inches of mousy perfection) that the cat Telemann was tormenting. Telemann is an indoor cat, and this was the first mouse he had ever seen, let alone caught. He was batting it merrily all over the house, looking blissfully in the zone and embodying the Platonic ideal of catness as the mouse twitched in agony.
What to do? On the one hand, I wanted to end the mouse’s suffering, but on the other, who was I to stand between Telemann and the instincts with which the Universe had endowed him? I dithered sleepily for a while and, in the end, opted for the coward’s way out. I prepared Telemann’s breakfast and called him. He dropped the mouse and came running, and while he was eating I swept up the now thankfully expired little creature and threw him out into the woods for the fox to find.