SEND, the new bible of email etiquette, was long-awaited by those of us who often feel as if we're drowning in a sea of bad jokes and cheesy chain letters. Written by Will Schwalbe (editor in chief of Hyperion Books) and David Shipley (deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed page editor of The New York Times, the book is supported by a great site and blog, Think Before You Send
Co-author Will Schwalbe answered our many questions (over email, of course), weighing in on everything from forwarding techniques to when it's time to just pick up the phone and yell at someone.
We have three autographed and dedicated copies of SEND to give away. Here's how it will work: You send us your stories of the worst email gaffes you've received, we'll pick our favorites and publish the stories (don't worry, the identities of the senders will be protected). The winners will receive the book to award the person who sent the email. To enter, follow the contact link at the bottom of the page, select "Send Giveaway" from the pull-down menu and tell us the most egregiously bad email story you've got before Thursday, 6 September 2007 at 11:59pm EST.
Due to the ease of sending email people to tend communicate a lot of unnecessary things. I think that's really the core of the book and the problem you're trying to help solve. Do you think this will get progressively worse as more and more emails are being sent, or will it help people learn?
You've hit the nail on the head. We love email. But everyone is using it too much. We think this situation will get better over time. Whenever you get a new toy—and in the history of human communication email is still a very new toy—you tend to play with it too much and use it for things it's not really meant for. The idea of the book is to spark a conversation. These are our rules about when to use email and when not to use it. But you can come up with your own—and those will be situational, varying from company to company or even person to person. The important thing is that you think about it and establish criteria. For example, we strongly believe that email isn't good for strong negative emotion. Whenever you are starting to get hot under the collar, it's time to get off email and pick up the phone or schedule a visit—or maybe even drop the matter entirely. People are using email too much (most people we know get and send upwards of 100 a day which is more than 30,000 a year) and not very well. So it simply has to get better; we don't think it can get much worse. There are only so many hours a day and many of us are spending a quarter of them on email.
The good news is that there's a lot in the world you can't do anything about. But this isn't one of those things. We can do this better and it's amazing the effect it has on your life when you do. One simple thing—for example, writing "No Reply Necessary" when you are just forwarding info or informing someone of something—can cut your email incoming down by 10-25%!
What are the exceptions to the SEND rule? When is it okay to send an email that isn't Simple, Effective, Necessary, or Done?
There are no exceptions to the SEND rule. None. But Simple doesn't mean arbitrarily simple. This isn't a simple reply, but I'm trying to make it as simple as I can. Effective. Ditto. It's a matter of effort. Necessary. Again, there's no objective standard. Sometimes the little "pings" we send our friends with a seemingly inessential message are the most necessary of all, because they say, "Hey, I'm thinking about you," and what could be more necessary than that? Anything that reinforces social bonds we care about is necessary. And finally Done. Well, that only applies if it's something you care that gets done. So, to use a tautology, it's only necessary when it's necessary. "Wanted you to know they are replaying that awesome Real World episode tonight—no reply necessary" is a message that doesn't need a Done mechanism. "I'm panicked that I left the stove on. Can you check and call me right back and let me know" does need a Done and has it built-in.
Do you think email and all of the digital communication is detrimental to the development of interpersonal relationships and the social skills of the generations growing up in an email world? Do you think people in the future are going to speak more like the emails we write? Or speak at all?