The politics of group e-mails

Have you ever received an e-mail or text message along the lines of "Heya, long time no hear.

Have you ever received an e-mail or text message along the lines of "Heya, long time no hear. I have a birthday coming up, could u remind me of ur address? Cheers, hope ur well"?

These communiqués, though somewhat haiku-like in their distillation of expression, can be problematic. How does it feel to receive a message from a long-lost friend and open it to find it is a generic one, composed for sending to multiple recipients?

Are you miffed at being lumped in with a bunch of other party invitees? Or does logic and practicality seize your brain in a vice-grip, and make it seem silly to fuss over such a trivial thing?

The politics of electronic communication are the subject of many a ranty editorial and magazine article. In the last five years or so, mainstream writers have filled column inches with laments over the demise of good manners in mobile phone users, and cautionary tales of saucy e-mails that end up in the boss's inbox. An article in the May issue of Cleo even instructed women how to reject late-night SMS propositions from inebriated males with succinct cheekiness. (I read it for research purposes.)

Group-based electronic communication is particularly fraught with politics. For example, say you're e-mailing a party invitation to a bunch of people. Do you list them all in the To: field? Send it to yourself and BCC them all in? Or perhaps put a few addresses in the To: field and the CC the rest, inevitably creating a divide between those elite who are worthy of To-ness and the dregs that sink to CC level?

These are the weighty concerns of generation tech.

Below, I have classified some common group e-mail related social minefields. Feel free to add any you have encountered.

Travelogue spamming
It is a truth universally acknowledged by crusty backpackers that travel broadens the mind and provides you with a different perspective on your own life. For many people, however, this new perspective includes the notion that every single person in your e-mail address list will be desperate to hear about how you scored an authentic-looking Tag Heuer knock-off for a sweet five bucks in Bali, or contracted a nasty bout of gastro following the consumption of a sweaty New York hotdog.

While travelling alone can make one lonely and in need of well-wishes-and-kisses from those left at home, the answer is not to spam everyone with tales of your journeys toward self-discovery and bonza bargains.

The compulsive Reply-Aller
There's one in every office. Sometimes several. These are the people who cannot resist broadcasting a wisecracking response to every recipient following a -- usually benign -- group e-mail. There is no single personality type that is especially prone to this behaviour, but those who thrive on an audience in the real world are likely to transfer that need for attention to the electronic realm.

The BCC betrayal
There's a scene in the movie Mean Girls where the evil blonde girl calls one friend in order to complain about another. After finally eliciting some critical remarks regarding the complained-about girl, she reveals that said girl has been listening in on the phone call the entire time.

This sneaky, underhanded tactic can be replicated in the business world by using the BCC function.

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