An e-mail story


Anyone that has e-mail has seen them… most of us dread them… the cute bear hug – make a wish angel – get money from someone because they have to do it (it’s the law you know) – snowball fight generic e-mail.

When it comes to my opinion on them, you will find me solidly in the “waste of time” camp. But I don’t consider myself an aggressive member of that camp. I just hit delete. Don’t even read them. Once I recognize what they are *poof* (delete).

But there’s a funny thing about e-mail. Hard to believe, but some people think it’s cute, or (even worse), use it despite the fact that they have absolutely no clue what they are doing.

We’ll get to that.

First, a quick story…

Like many of you have probably encountered, the place where I work has an e-mail system, with an internal address book. I’m not mentioning that to get into an internal/external e-mail debate about it, but rather to point to an “all hands” or similar feature that allows certain documents to be sent company-wide, to everyone with an account in the group. (Isn’t modern technology wonderful?)

Once the system was up and running several years ago, it took all of about one second… if not less time… for someone to silently think some form of this question: “Hmm… wonder if I can get e-mails from home here?” And with the answer to that brilliant thought, the ability to get programs, files, jokes and other assorted pieces of non-work sent in to a person’s work e-mail address was realized.


The problem was… people had no clue what they were doing. They just did it. (We’ll get to the differences between “reply” and “reply to all” in just a second. Promise.)

So it was, about a year later, that an e-mail went out to everybody in the company. Blah-blah-blah happiness… blah-blah-blah scroll down… blah-blah-blah one to five friends dream will come true in two weeks, twenty to twenty-five friends cocktails at the pool bar in seven days, thirty to forty friends lap dances in fifteen minutes… blah-blah-blah fairy angel of destiny don’t break the chain.

One of those.

Sent to everybody I work with that had a company e-mail account.

If you’ve been paying attention, I’ve already told you my response to this incident.

*poof* (delete)

But something terrible happened after that e-mail went out. Actually, something terribly funny. See… people decided to reply to the e-mail. And by so doing so, their words of wit became even more annoying than the original e-mail.

(Time for my reply, reply to all, forward speech…)


Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to direct your attention to your e-mail service. Almost all of them are different… in both significant and insignificant ways. Most of them even allow you to adjust options, features and layouts to suit your needs and preferences. (Hey… get back here… play with those settings later. This is important.)

Even with these differences, every one I have ever used or seen has always contained some form of these three options for every piece of received e-mail: reply, reply to all, or forward. Here’s where it gets fun, and you may learn something, so pay attention...

Reply – Clicking on this feature brings up a message, going from you to the person or address that sent it to you. (I’m not going to get into an argument about junk addresses and blocked access here folks, this is E-Mail 101, not a graduate level course. Clicking reply sets up an e-mail back to the sender. We leave it at that.) You can add destinations/addresses to it beyond the original source if you wish, but essentially it sets up a one-to-one reply.

Reply to all – Selecting this option enables a message going from you to everyone that the original message was sent to. When you click send, your e-mail in return doesn’t just go to the person/address/whatever that sent it your way, it goes to that address and every other one that the original e-mail included.

Forward – When you select either reply option noted here, most e-mail programs assume that you don’t want to send the attachments along with it. So while the original e-mail will normally find its way along with your response, the huge movie file that you thought was so funny won’t be sent back. Why take up time and space sending a huge file to people that already received it or had it? (See above – either reply option contacts people that had access to the attachments... again, this is E-Mail 101.) But maybe that attached picture of the bunny with the hair dryer was just so hysterical you needed to send it to someone. That’s when you click on forward… see it takes the whole message, repackages it, and sends it on. It forwards it. Get it?

Overall, knowing the differences in these options rarely means anything too serious or significant. Oh darn, you meant to answer a question for one person (should have hit “reply”) and sent your answer to everyone instead of the person asking it (actually hit “reply to all”). Since they were all asked the question, it’s probably no big deal. In some cases, it might even be preferable. And again, you can adjust things, for instance by adding and deleting names... but that is going way beyond where I want to take you.

Ah yes… back to our story.

Evidently a lot of people got very upset by this misuse of company time and resources. Let’s see (these are quotes from memory, the issues are accurate, but the words may be off)…

  • “the company offers such a wonderful service and equipment and to see it wasted on material such as this…”
  • “please do not send me any more material like this in the future…”
  • “me either…”
  • “me either…”
  • “me either…”
  • “doesn’t this person have any real work to do?”
  • “I don’t want any more either…”
  • “me either…”
  • “this was sent to me in error…”
  • “This is a waste of time…”

Look… I counted. And in response to this one e-mail… the one I started to read, figured out was worthless, shook my head and deleted… there were fifty-two replies that I received calling it a waste of time, resources and a mistake. Fifty... two...

Which do you think ticked me off more: (1) The original stupid e-mail I had to delete. (2) The fifty-two stupid replies I had to delete.

Yeah… it’s a tough question (yes... that’s sarcasm). Every one of those fifty-two e-mailers was absolutely right though. It was a waste of time... a waste of company resources... and something none of us should have had to endure. But instead of telling us all about your feelings on the subject... how about... maybe... if I just suggest...

*poof* (delete)

(Or heck, learn the difference between reply and reply to all and leave me out of the darn lecture.)

The reason this article came to light here though isn’t because of story number one. That’s just the set up. It’s because of story number two.

The other day I got an e-mail from one of my friends at work. It was a time waster… probably the classic time waster e-mail of all time, the Bill Gates wants to send you money so pass this e-mail on. Now, all of us know this e-mail is absurd. And yet for many people… look, just in case, after all what harm… they pick a few people and send it along anyway.

It just happened that my friend picked an idiot as one of the five names to send it along to. The idiot responded: “This is a scam. It has been going around for a couple of years now. It is designed to obtain email addresses. Please do not send me any more of these types of emails.”

Now, far be it for me to point out that if this e-mail was designed to track and collect e-mail addresses and actually could do it, he was to a degree helping it out by replying, and helping out even more by replying to all. (Idiot. Heck, his response actually proved that Bill’s e-mail was possible.) Instead, as many of us know, it is hard to read emotions and intent off of a page… so perhaps he thought he was helping out by sharing his amazing common sense and intelligence, bringing some light to our dark little corners of the cubicle galaxy, and letting us all know about this scam... or maybe he thought he was asking all of us not to send him this kind of e-mail in case we were so inspired to include him in future reindeer games… well, I won’t read much into his telling all of us not to send things like this to him rather than just telling the person that actually sent it. (Idiot.)

Instead, let’s just acknowledge that he was sort of right… it is a scam. Kind of. But not to collect e-mail addresses. The point of this e-mail isn’t that Bill Gates or anyone else gets a list of the people it gets forwarded to. No one really does. Instead, someone is getting their giggles out of the fact that so many people are dumb enough and gullible enough to keep forwarding it over and over and over again that many of us have seen it dozens of times.

My point is… folks… e-mails are not toys. They are recorded in most companies, whether you think you deleted them or not. Head over to Yahoo or Google, check out “fired e-mail” as the search words and look over the literally millions of articles that exist, a huge number of which I am certain you will accept as being posted in credible sources.

So before you click that button… ask yourself… is this what I really want to do?

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at