As someone who runs my life through my inbox (as opposed to the phone), I’ve seen a lot of emails over the years. Most are perfectly great and decent. But over time, certain patterns of manipulation and exploitation have emerged with the rest.
I’m talking about the person who puts a fake “Re:” in the subject line of an email to a total stranger to make it seem like this is the continuation of an old conversation. The crazy subject lines designed to make you click. The auto-scheduled “just circling back to make sure you got this” email. When I was a marketing director, I would see salespeople deliberately email the wrong person inside the company, pretending they didn’t know the right contact in order to trick that unsuspecting person into making an introduction to their intended target. I’ve even seen people send unsolicited calendar invites to force you to decline and, thus, interact with them.
These are your horrendously sketchy email tactics, aimed to trick and nudge the leads that salespeople and marketers have pulled from some spreadsheet or mailing list. If Glengarry Glen Ross was written in 2013 instead of 1983, these are the kinds of things the characters would be doing—and we’d think “Oh my god do people really do that?”
Sadly they do. Worse, this pales in comparison to the newest and most egregious trend in attention-seeking email behavior. Something that I have no compunction in saying that if you do it, you’re a monster who should be banned from email from life.
It goes like this:
A stranger emails you asking for something: “Would you be interesting in [insert product they’re selling?” “Will you appear on my podcast?” “Can you answer my question?” “Can I write a guest post for your blog?” “Can you read my manuscript?”
Then, if you don’t respond in a timely fashion (and the definition of “timely” varies widely), they send a gif like this.
Or a photo like this:
(Those are two actual images from two actual emails I have received. Just two of the times I have seen someone run this script.)
Do you get the joke? They’re anxiously waiting because you haven’t replied quickly enough.
Of course, this is intended to be light-hearted. The idea is to get a laugh, and for that laugh to inspire you to click “Reply”. They don’t mean anything else by it.
And I totally believe that. They also don’t mean to prove to you that they are an entitled fucking asshole who was raised by wolves (read: narcissistic parents). But they did. They definitely proved that.
Imagine the mindset of someone who thinks this is a good idea: You’ve just made a request of someone you don’t know. Your request isn’t time sensitive, and you know the person you’ve just emailed is probably very busy, but 24 hours have passed without a response, and now you’re hoping really, really bad that this person will do something for you. So, of course, you figure it only makes sense to email them again—to “ping” them, in the obnoxious, literally anti-personal language of modern entrepreneurialism. And though you may deny it, the message you compose, reads: “Hey You! Stranger! I’m waiting over here. Give me what I want now!”
People actually do this. Even many who would pull back at sending a finger-tapping GIF, wouldn’t hesitate 17 hours after their first email, to follow up. “Hey, did you get my email?” “Hey, what’s going on?” “Hey, when are you going to give me an answer?”
It’s unfathomable to me. When I see it, all I think is: I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you by not promptly responding to the email I never wanted to receive in the first place? By god man, do you think the world revolves around you?
The said reality is we don’t have to “imagine” someone acting this way. Because it happens every day.
There are fundamentally two types of people in this world: 1) People who think they are entitled to other people’s time and 2) decent, civilized human beings. The latter are those who respect time (because they understand that time is finite). The former ask indiscriminately to chat or meet. The latter are straight and to the point and aim to conduct their business with as little imposition on other people as possible. The former are the ones who always seem to want to “hop on the phone” or make some other request without any consideration of other people or why someone might want to do that. They are the people who are always taking, taking and taking. Because the latter wouldn’t conceive of stealing someone else’s time, they are often the marks that the former attempt to exploit. They are prey to the trickery (like I’ve discussed above) and laziness of the former. Like the folks who send audio-texts instead of bothering to write out an email or god-forbid a few sentence text.
All of these modern practices probably began with some selfish person who didn’t stop to consider the person on the other end of the exchange. That’s their right, just as it’s the right of the person who receives their GIF-y email to shake their head and write them off as rude and ridiculous.
Thankfully, that’s what 99% of the people who encounter these tactics do. The problem is that the other 1% see them and think: “Oh my god, that’s brilliant! I should totally do that too.” And so like a cancer, this selfish, entitled way of interacting spreads through our culture, infecting and spoiling idiots who don’t understand decorum or manners or basic human decency.
And it’s been this way since the beginning of civilization, since long before the invention of the telephone or email. Two thousand years ago, Seneca observed how interesting it is that if your neighbor came over and asked for a piece of your property you’d think they were insane. But if someone asks you for five minutes, you go “Sure!”. “No person hands out their money to passers-by,” he said, “but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
To apply that to this new kind of email parasitism, it’s not just that they expect a piece of your property—they expect it on their timeline. And if you don’t hand it over quickly enough, what you get in return is a guilt trip. It’s passive aggression at its worst. Cookie Monster, with his insatiable, unstoppable appetite for cookies is such an apt image for this. Because like him, these people are never satisfied and want more and more and more.
Since what they want is important to them, it’s the most important thing in the world.
This kind of explicit selfishness is repulsive, but it’s also refreshing. Like a lot of people, I feel bad if I am slow to respond to something and I feel rude when I say no. That’s because I do consider the person on the other side of the exchange (for starters, I realize that there is a person on the other side of the exchange—not an ATM) and I put myself in their shoes and think about how I’d like to be treated.
When someone goes and proves that they are operating on an entirely differently level—that all they care about is themselves, that they can’t even be polite when asking you to fork over minutes of your life you’ll never get back—it makes responding very easy. As I told the last kid who sent me that email, I’m actually grateful.
Thanks, I said, you’ve made this very easy for me. No, no, no—a thousand times no. Don’t email me ever again.