The Lost Art of the E-mail Reply


Good afternoon, moonshine. It is 3PM if you are reading this story at its time of publish and I have accrued 43 e-mails in the time it has taken me to hit publish. About half of those e-mails will be going directly to trash (that there are still e-mails populating my inbox referencing Sochi seems like both a digital marvel and catastrophe). The other half will require responses that will consume the next 25 minutes, at least. Many of these responses will simply indicate my need to provide a simple yes or no answer while the remaining handful, the real chunk of time-consumption guised as typing, will require a bit more, let’s say, mental finesse.

To be clear, I am not the reply button whisperer.

I have convinced myself that 30% of the food I consume is food I consume in order to procrastinate hitting the reply button. I have also been told on a number of occasions, mostly from relatives, that I am atrociously bad at responding to e-mails. One time, my mom wrote to ask me if I wanted to have lunch on the day her e-mail was sent, and while I did reply yes, it was two weeks later. Just two months ago, the, how you say, situation got so bad that my dad cc’d my husband on an e-mail, subject title “Shame on Your Wife” about the four e-mails he’d just urgently sent me, which I didn’t answer, to which I wanted to respond: I have a phone number, dad. Instead I cried but that is neither here nor there.

I want to say it’s not my fault but of course, I know that it is. And I’m working on it –really, I am. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail about attending an event for a new pacifier brand (yes, as in the baby prop) to which the old me would have never responded. But the new me politely declined the invitation and that was it. No harm, no foul. It was much easier than I anticipated it would be and frankly speaking, sure beat ducking my head every time a follow up e-mail hit my inbox as though the sender could see me and I was Carrie Bradshaw in that ridiculous(ly telling) episode of Sex and the City when she thought Aidan could see her through AOL. It got me on a reply-roll.

See, but once I got better at answering e-mails, I realized how terrible the rest of humanity — or at least the fraction of it with which I liaise — is at answering e-mails, which leads me to ask the question: when did it become okay to stop answering e-mails? You wouldn’t ignore a text, would you? Much the same way that if an interlocutor were to look directly at you and ask you a question, I’d put good money on the possibility that you wouldn’t ignore his or her face either. So what makes leaving an e-mail, in this digitally golden age of communication, seem okay?

Of course, I understand that there are exceptions. Press releases don’t often require answers. Neither do, I suppose, rent payment reminders. But if e-mailing has become, as several pundits of expression have put it, the most efficient form of correspondence (speculation), what does that mean about our ability to successfully and perhaps more importantly, respectfully transmit information?

Allude to Snapchat’s escalating pervasiveness and I will definitely ignore your e-mail.

Illustration by Charlotte Fassler

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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