Like most people, I have multiple email accounts and all of them are more admin than they’re worth.
I hate my spam folders with the burning passion of a thousand suns. Then there are the ‘as per my last email’ and other clichéd intros guaranteed to ruin my day.
Earlier this year, we covered how email was dying a slow and terrible death. With the myriad ways that we can contact each other, it’s taken a back seat, especially when the question or update that one is after can fit neatly into a WhatsApp message.
Then the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
Much has changed since most of the world locked down or adopted physical distancing measures. Working from home has in many ways revived the email, as one of the ways to stay in touch with work colleagues and friends.
Moreover, we’ve largely abandoned those email clichés in favour of a gentler approach.
As Covid-19 tears its way through communities across the globe and as fears about the virus and its impact increase, emails have taken on a different tone. People who are in the fortunate position of being employed are thinking twice before they dash off a transactional email without acknowledging the coronavirus; as a result, our inboxes are now filled with well wishes from mere acquaintances—or in some cases virtual strangers.
Nowadays, it seems wrong to end an email with ‘kind regards’ or ‘looking forward to hearing from you’. Instead, we’re ‘hoping friends and family are healthy’, or ‘hoping to find’ people in good health. ‘Stay safe’ is another popular sign-off.
Goggin Sivit, who sometimes writes freelance for beer publications, described a recent exchange in which she emailed an editor and forgot to include well wishes. The editor replied that she hoped Goggin Sivit was doing well, staying healthy, and staying inside. “I thought, ‘Oh man, I totally left that out of the email that I sent her,’” Goggin Sivit says.
Others aren’t crazy about the new email trend. It is, after all, a constant reminder that the new normal means rarely seeing the outside world.
So what’s the best way to approach emails in these difficult times? Author Randy Malamud, an English professor at Georgia State University, has some advice:
“You can do a draft and put it aside for a few minutes and come back and edit. You want to think about the person you’re writing to, picture her face and think about what her face will look like when she sees what you’re writing. There are ways to personalize this and to get beyond the rote, conventional, formulaic modes of discourse,” Malamud says.
I don’t know why he’s specifically referring to women on the receiving end of emails, but I assume the same principle applies when you’re emailing men or gender non-binary people.
Email is not the most beautiful medium in the world. Adding “Hope you’re well” to it won’t make it so—or make anyone well who is not. But you can still work consciously to fight against the current of email blather, what Malamud calls “gigabyte upon gigabyte of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Okay, then. No blather. Got it.
In short, I hope this finds you in good health.
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