11 October 2010

Bring it Back to Respond/React

Watching intently: These links are going to be redundant for many of you but they need to be shared. I first started noticing Heather Morris' dancing skills during the Glee Vogue video. She had this overly frenetic style that was hilarious. And those fierce facial expressions she did were killer. I had no idea she was actually a dancer first, and when I found that fact out, it explained everything. Now I can't get enough of her dancing Single Ladies with Beyonce: here at the AMAs, here on the Today show. I watch these like once a day. Plus this one with Heather and Harry Shum Jr. teaching the Dougie. I'll keep sharing these until everyone in the world have seen them. You can thank me later.

How would you feel if you handed your friend a pamphlet and said, "this is really cool, I know you'll like it," and they take it, rip it up, and then throw it in the trash? Friends don't do that to each other right? At worst you'll give it a cursory once over and then decide if it's worth paying more attention to. Anything else would just be rude.

Well somehow email allows everyone to be exactly this kind of rude. Here's the situation: A trusted friend carbon copies you and a few buddies on a burrito video. A burrito video alone should be cause for clickage but this one highlighted a place in San Diego that was on the Food Network, which made it both relevant and of interest to everyone CC-ed.

Later that night, I leave the house for the first time all week and go to this bar we've had some history with. Right next door is the exact burrito shop featured in the video! I excitedly tell my other friends (who were on the email) about this coincidence but they give me blank stares.

"Wait, do you even know what I'm talking about? Didn't you see Ameer's video?" I said, realization dawning on me. They hadn't seen the video; they hadn't even bothered to click on it. For them, that email was just as good as spam. Basically the message sent to Ameer was: "Your emails to me are worthless and I will trash your gift to me with one click."

Look, I understand that in this age of retweets and Facebook sharing and "I'll forward this hahaha to everyone I know" there's hardly any obligation to go clicking on people's links. But when you get sent an email specifically curated to you and you don't have the courtesy to even glance at it? Friend penalty I say, friend penalty!

I know this may seem like a minor point but things like this happen all the time. I'm actually a bit of a hypocrite about this. It wasn't until recently that I started replying to Evites. For years I'd never mark an answer even if I knew full well what I was going to be doing. I've come around on this after some Walden-like reflection and friend therapy/threats. Now I do my best to non-commit publicly and mark "maybe." It's a small step but a big one. This applies to all group invites and emails. Nothing is worse as a planner than not having people respond. Our new rule of thumb is "If I don't hear from you, you're out." Actually, let's set some ground rules right now.

(1) Follow the Leader: It's the job of the individual to let the host or planner know if they will be in attendance. We aren't in college anymore, party crashers aren't cool. And the person in charge shouldn't have to harass you for an answer unless you are so fun, and such the life of the party, that you can just show up and people will be extremely excited to see you. Then you can show up whenever you want. But if you're not sure what your fun status is, it's probably a safe bet you don't qualify for this exemption; you should RSVP in a timely manner.

(2) I Know You Got Soul: Any "I'm too busy to read our correspondence" excuses will be immediately tossed aside. Everyone is busy, everyone has things to do. You are responsible for your inbox. Once I've sent you the email, it's your job to read it. If it's too long and you can't dedicate that much of your life to it, feel free to ask for shorter emails next time, or to be removed from the list. However, things like "Oh I didn't read the email because it was too long" don't fly.

Email is about convenience and permanence. I email you on my time, you read it on your time. If you missed something, it sits in the Gmail archive forever. (Note: If you aren't using Gmail I think we have bigger issues. Please just use Gmail.) I don't know how people in this day and age don't organize/prioritize their email life. It's not just a social thing, it's also very likely a work skill. And unless you're famous or extremely popular, I doubt you're getting that many emails a day anyway.

(3) Paid in Full: Responding to shared or recommended things two months later doesn't count as a response. That's just your guilt talking. Let the past go and start over with a clean slate. I don't even remember what I sent you two months ago and clearly you're just working through your inbox issues. Let that email rot in the trash unresponded because I've already forgotten about it. Exceptions: Book, movie, and music recommendations because those can take awhile to acknowledge and actually get through. A nice "cool, I'll check it out" would still be nice though.

(4) I Ain't No Joke: Introducing the Rule of 3. You have three days to reply to a somewhat timely email. A three word/phrase/sentence response is a minimum. And after three strikes in any of these related categories, you're off the list. It's up to you to ask what's going on and keep updated as to future events. There's none of this "just include me even though I always say no" business. If you can't be bothered to respond to me, I won't be bothered to always include you. No taking things personally, no hard feelings, it's just the way it is.
For the record, I have made many of these transgressions but now that I've seen the light, I hope to have better digital life etiquette. Below are a few more thoughts on specific formats and sites.

Email: Each additional person past five that you CC on an email lessens the chance of anybody reading it. It's just the way it works. Keep this in mind as you forward things along. People will consider the source and if you're prone to fifty person emails, just know that your reputation is going to take a hit. From Ameer: "Source is very important, you can't emphasize enough that the source governs whether or not you open, discard, or archive the message." Actually, if you like having twenty people CC-ed all the time, can I recommend getting a Tumblr? Also, check out this post from The Oatmeal.

Evites: What's with hiding the guestlist? Don't you know this is 50% of any person's evite decision? The first thing people ask you anyway is "who else is going to be there?" Just flash the guestlist and save yourself the headache.

Facebook: Strangely, you'd think Facebook would be the de facto invite site of choice but I think we're all so used to event spams that Facebook Events are far down on the list of things we respond to. Don't judge, you know you do it too. I have no rules for Facebook since I don't use it very often.

Google Calendar: Call me a Google fanboy but Google events are much better since they integrate right into your calendar already. The only downside is everyone needs to have a Google account I believe, and use Google Calendar on the regular. Again, get with the program and use Google products.

Youtube: If the first fifteen seconds aren't compelling, you have the right to shut it off. If you forward something along that takes awhile to rev up, either say so beforehand or deep link straight to the part in question. Deep linking with Youtube is very easy. Just add "#t=1m45s" to the end of the web address. It's like magic.

On another note, we have a friend who is notorious for not coming to something but then text blasting people during the event. Despite declining the invite they'll text in rapid succession throughout the course of the night: "Are you there yet? How is it? Who's there? Is it fun? What are you doing afterwards? Take a picture?" If you aren't going to come, you can't annoy the people who are actually in attendance for immediate details. Wait until they're ready to debrief. And stop texting me!

I like putting the "contract" in "social contract" and this is yet another of my heavily researched conclusions. I hope these simple rules make us all better people.