May 1, 1978 is a day that will live in email infamy. On this day the first spam email was sent. Gary Thuerk was purportedly “aggressive” east-coast marketer in charge of getting word out about the DECSYSTEM-20, which was a mainframe computer. Here is a picture of the computer in case you want to break down some wall in your office and buy one:
Now, email was a very new thing in those days—a novelty. But since they were going to include email support in the “DEC-20” Gary thought he would send an email to the entire west coast about it. Yes, everyone who had an email on “Arpanet” got one (this was an early precursor to the internet.)
His email included hundreds of email addresses in the “TO:” line and many spilled over into the text so the first several pages just looked like this:
“MLM@SU-AI JPDG@TENEXB MOORE@USC-ISIB WMORE@USC-ISIB JAM@SU-AI MORAN@PARC-MAXC ROZ@SU-AI MORGAN@USC-ISIB MORRIS@PARC-MAXC MORRIS@I4-TENEX OT-ITS@SRI-KA LISA@USC-ISIB MOSHER@SRI-KL MULHERN@USC-ISI MUNTZ;BIN(1529)@UCLA-CCN MYERS@USC-ISIC MYERS@RAND-RCC”
As you might imagine the reaction was pretty negative to the first spam email. One “Reply to All” said:
“THIS WAS A FLAGRANT VIOLATION OF THE USE OF ARPANET AS THE NETWORK IS TO BE USED FOR OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT BUSINESS ONLY. APPROPRIATE ACTION IS BEING TAKEN TO PRECLUDE ITS OCCURRENCE AGAIN.” Typing in all caps was more common in those days, making email look kinda like an angry telegram.
Another reply said:
“There are two kinds of message that have been frowned upon on the network. These are advertising of particular products and advertising for or by job applicants.”
The spam caused a massive early online discussion and one single person even mused:
“Would a dating service for people on the net be “frowned upon” by DCA? I hope not. But even if it is, don’t let that stop you from notifying me via net mail if you start one.” (Perhaps this person is a billionaire Internet dating venture capitalist today?)
Now, spam is super-irritating. But most of us won’t “pull a Gary Thuerk” anytime soon, since we don’t have mainframe computers to sell and sending an email to the entire West Coast would involve a lot of typing!
However, we all commit several sins with our emails… and so here are the 7 Deadly Sins of Email… I started with a long list including many other sins, but narrowed it down to the most common and most egregious examples. Confess and repent, you brood of email vipers!
7) Email Black Hole
When I commit this sin I don’t reply to email at all. I may send them out and expect you to my their work for me—but if you send me an email it gets absorbed into a tiny black hole represented by the “@” symbol in my email address and your message which includes timeless wisdom, important information, and requested decisions reaches a singularity and no longer exists. When you ask me about your email later I look at you as if you had sent me a carrier pigeon and I muse aloud whether it is “lost in cyberspace.” Rolling your eyes at my use of the word “cyberspace” you recall that I have an “@aol.com” address and everything starts to make sense.
6) The “I exist” reply game
When I email sin this way I reply to everything to prove I am working. I also reply to all whenever possible. The exact opposite of the email black hole—instead I become the ping-pong email player. I hit every one back at you as soon as possible, and everyone knows I am the King or Queen of email. No one can ever question that I am working—or at least emailing—all the time. When e-sinning this way, I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and reply to all my emails so it looks like I am working at 2am. If the boss emails a long list of people I will reply to all as fast as possible. I don’t say “FIRST” in my email reply… but that’s pretty much what everyone is thinking.
5) The Blind Leading the Blind Carbon Copy
This sin has deep consequences. I email another person on some very sensitive issue. In order to “loop someone else in” I use BCC. But then the person blind copied didn’t realize they were blind copied, so they reply to all and then the secret is out. The person who replied looks silly, but I, BCC sinner, look devious and shifty—and everyone is left to wonder if I am BCCing every email to their spy network of politically-motivated folk. BCCing is a super-dangerous sin that many get away with for a while—but then it comes back to haunt me in horrible ways.
4) Creating Confusion
Some emails are just sinfully confusing. My email is about twenty different items, and not organized. Or the subject line has nothing at all to do with the email’s content, or worse, is entirely blank. (Email Fact: 35% of recipients open emails based on the subject line alone.) When I e-sin this way I forward emails to others and leave a bunch of forwarding information in the email so you have to scroll to the bottom to see the knock-knock joke that I thought was funny in the first place. I also “bury the lead” of the email so that you have no idea what I am talking about until the end, when I say: “So, I’m wondering if you could meet with me in the next 24 hours to discuss this.”
3) Excessive Attachments
I have a 24 megabyte pic to share with you. It is a picture of my cat in a Halloween costume. It is a dog costume on a cat. I “sent it to you because you are a dog person — LOL?” Later on I send 14 attachments on one email, each of which you now must save to your hard drive one by one. I have never heard of our company’s shared network, Google Drive or Dropbox before. When you tell me about them I say: “but email is so much more convenient for me.”
When I e-sin this way I send anything but business emails. I get work done other ways, perhaps, but email is my way to crack jokes and throw out random stuff all the time. Email is a “break” for me—and so I troll through the Internet looking for funny stuff and I email it to my friends and co-workers all day. If I am sending YouTube links more than 3 times a day then I am likely guilty of the sin of email randomness.
1) Email Epistler
This is my sin of e-verbosity. I “get going” on a subject and before I know it I have written a 3,022 word “synopsis” of my views on the new Personnel Manual. This synopsis is exactly as long as Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. When in the role of “Email Epistler” I live by the motto: “Why use one word when ten would do?” Later on I ask you: “Did you read my email?” I have that glint in my eye that is hoping you will comment on my seamless logic and witty banter, and that perhaps you caught the multiple puns I inserted to keep the reader interested. Instead, you tell me that you “might have to read that one on the weekend” when you have more time. I hang my head and return to my office where I write a long email about company vision and values.
Those are the 7 Deadly Sins of Email. I confess and repent that I have done each of these at one time or another. I’m a “recovering e-sinner.” How about you?
Also, which e-sins should I have added to the list which are even more vile in your opinion, or are particularly irritating to you?
The “Changing Email Culture” series by David Drury
- Escaping Email Hell: Part 1 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series
- 7 Deadly Sins of Email: Part 2 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series
- Email Expectations: Part 3 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming)
- Email Self-Examination: Part 4 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming)
- Email Shortcuts: Part 5 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming)
- Email Alternatives: Part 6 of the “Changing Email Culture” Series (coming)