Inexpressive email

A colleague wrote this morning to tell me my car had been towed in Buffalo. Or was she kidding?

The problem, as this Wired News story relates, is that email is largely an informal medium without the normal informal cues. I like it for that reason: you can get down to business more quickly. But it also doesn’t translate well for those of us who tend toward the sarcastic, sardonic, and ironic.

For us, email is a sand trap of missed and crossed meanings. Of course, it’s true that real life conversations face the same difficulty, but at least in face-to-face encounters, you have the chance to catch that bewildered look in your interlocutor’s eyes–and assuming that this is different from the gaze they normally direct toward you, you can take some corrective action.

I abhor “smileys.” While I slightly prefer the arched-eyebrowed Asian variety, those often fall on deaf eyes. I guess what I need is a disclaimer at the end of my emails:

The views expressed in this email may not be those intended by the author. In fact, the stated views may be intentionally orthogonal to the author’s real position. Several of the statements contained above should be read as “just kidding.” You may not find them to be amusing, but that is satisfactory, since they were chiefly intended to amuse the author. Please do not apply more weight to these words than the author has; it would be scarcely possible to apply less. If you feel slighted, sickened, insulted, bemused, belittled, emboldened, terrified, ecstatic, embattled, degraded, derided, or confused, congratulations; it is likely you have correctly interpreted the above missive.

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One Comment

  1. Jane
    Posted 2/16/2006 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Ha! J-me told me to take a look and I have done so, and laughed. But I fear I often rely on smileys, because it’s so easy to re-read your own words and fear that they just don’t convey what you want them to.

    But then, how did people manage in the world when they did nothing but write letters to communicate when not face-to-face?

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