An Open Letter To The People Who Hit ‘Reply All’

Oh, John and Holly. Holly and John. I know nothing about you. I don’t even know if you know each other, or if you are as much of strangers tethered by circumstance as I am to each of you. Perhaps the only point of intersection in our lives is Amanda, our sole mutual friend — the same girl whose words sealed our fates together in the first place.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The three of us, and 18 others, were all recipients of the same email. Presumably, you both live near enough to me to have been included, because Amanda wanted to let us know that she’d be visiting our city. She wanted to know if any of us were busy that particular weekend, and whether we’d care to meet up. That’s where the correspondence should have ended. But it didn’t end there. And I blame you, John and Holly — and all the Johns and Hollys of the world, and all of you would-be wasters of my digital flavor — because, while this could have remained a simple, contained message from one individual friend, you had the gall to entrap me into an involuntary dialogue.

Do you know the difference between the ‘reply’ and ‘reply all’ buttons? Is it possible that it could have been an honest mistake? If you don’t know, please take a moment to ruminate over the linguistic implications of the word ‘all.’ Do you know everyone receiving this message, John? Do you think that Holly, or me, or any of the other 18 have a particular interest in whether or not you are playing tennis on Saturday morning? I am trying my best not to be sarcastic. I am really wondering. Did you believe this information bore special consequence to all of us? Were you, for example, attempting to bookmark Amanda publicly for a time that is specifically not Saturday morning? Is that why you did it? And Holly — when you mentioned that you had an event on Friday, but would keep Amanda updated — were you deliberate in your announcement to all of us? Were you somehow allowing the rest of us (including even John, Friday evening not being Saturday morning) to proceed with a Hollyless evening? Did either or both of you conceive of this as a group message that implicitly begged for a group outing?

You see, Holly and John, I did not read it that way. I do not believe that Amanda intended to haphazardly dump all of the people she knows in one city into a single outing simply in order to check us all off of a list. I daresay that Amanda has more grace than that. You wouldn’t put cheetos in a blender with chocolate milk, would you? I believe that Amanda regarded a group email as a convenient method by which to inform us of her travel plans. Her underlying assumption, I would guess, mirrored mine — that if you happened to be available and willing to meet, you would take the initiative to contact her privately to propose something. Holly, John, I am beginning to wonder if this was the first group message that you’d ever been included in.

Is clicking the ‘reply all’ button a typical instinct of yours? Was it a decision that preceded a considerable amount of judgment?

And did you think at all, John and Holly, of we other 18 recipients of Amanda’s email? Did you wonder about us? Do you know any of us? Did you even peek at our names? Did you wonder, John, if any of us perhaps pass our Saturday mornings with tennis, too? And Holly, did you pause to guess whether any of us might also, by some serendipitous connection, attend that very same Friday event?

And did you imagine your messages reaching us? Did you picture us reading them? I suspect you did not, John and Holly. I suspect you typed these quickly, during your lunch hour, perhaps, and thought not another thing about it. There is a chance, I gather, that you don’t even know that you hit ‘reply all,’ and have proceeded since then under the false assumption that your messages were only read by Amanda. But they weren’t. They were read by all of us. I should know. I was part of the us. They were read by me.

Maybe I am being unfair, John and Holly. You didn’t think that far ahead, did you? How could you have? You didn’t scroll down the list of e-mail addresses and fix your eyes on mine, two-thirds the way down, no more creative than my first and last name with a dot in the middle. I use Gmail, like everyone else does. I can’t expect you to wonder about me, and I can’t expect you to consider my technically minor inconvenience in opening my email account only to find a message from you, a person I’ve never met, addressing a girl who has never been me.

And I can’t admit, or expect you to understand, the way I sit up in my office chair when I see a one in parentheses at the top of my inbox. Are you like that, too, John and Holly? Have you noticed the way that either or both of you, and maybe even Amanda and the other 18 of us, feel so considered and wanted and present when there are bold lines at the top of the page, which can only indicate unread messages? And have you felt like you are sinking, when they turn out to be from Living Social, or Amazon, or Career Builder from back when you were job hunting? And does it embarrass you? Does it make you as sad as it makes me, John and Holly?

Because your names are not Groupon, or Modcloth, or eBay, or Twitter, or Orbitz. You have human names. So, can you imagine how much worse it is to scan an inbox and rule out a marketing mailing list, only to discover that you are witnessing a conversation that never had a thing to do with you? And are you strangers, John and Holly, to the feeling afterward of having been interrupted in your own tiny corner of the internet, just to find that the excitement of being contacted personally was a false alarm? Do you know what it is like to click all day on different tabs to find nothing, and no one? Would you laugh, John and Holly, at the state in which your actions left my hopes?

I hope you would, John and Holly. I hope you would mock me for being so rigid and irritable so as to feel jilted by an unintended email. I hope you would cackle, and tell me it is my fault for allowing my emotions to be so dramatically manipulated by my computer screen. I hope you would laugh about it, assert the fact that the ‘reply all’ button deserves no intellectual consideration, and find a way to fill up your life with evening events and tennis games. Because if you did feel this way, John and Holly, it would make me feel better about blaming you. It would put you in the wrong. The problem wouldn’t be me — it wouldn’t be the fact that I’ve opened my heart to the internet, that I’ve replaced speech with typing, or that I have only a few friends that I see in person. The problem wouldn’t be that I wade around my inbox, or my Facebook profile, or my Twitter feed, waiting for something to happen. The problem wouldn’t be that the jump I feel in getting an email is a feeling I don’t get from much else. And the problem wouldn’t be my disappointment stemming from an inability to brush off the dozens of messages that mean even less than nothing at all.

The problem would be you. It would be you, John and Holly. You did this. You crept into my life, you were reckless with your email features, and you trampled all over the points of etiquette that all of us ought to know by now. The problem would be that you annoyed me. And that would be the only reason, John and Holly, that you were ever anything more than a thing that I had to delete. TC mark


More From Thought Catalog

  • Lindseycm

    this is fucking stupid.  Maybe Amanda does want to organize and outing with all her friends….. what’s that called…. oh yeah, a party.  

    • Jordana Bevan

      ^LindseyCM: Bitter after having the truth of “reply all” revealed to her. It’s okay Lindsey, probably no one thought you were this stupid after the innumerable times you’ve mistaken “all” for “just that one person who sent it.” Probably, but no promises. I wish you luck in your continued attempts at e-mail communication.

      • Michael Koh


  • Sarah

    This exercise in inane redundancy and tautology surely ate up more of your time than John and Holly ever could have.

  • Jordana Bevan


    • Sarah

      While YOU use cruise control and don’t know where the “reply” button is on TC! The irony is delicious.

      • Jordana Bevan

        1. cruise control for cool
        2. obviously do, but separate thoughts call for separate comments

  • Jordana Bevan

    NYU keeps sending out mass e-mails and poor, confused students keep hitting “reply all.” Thanks for something funnier/more poignant to send them than this .

  • Erik

    An Open Letter to People Who Think Their Own Pet Peeves Are Shared By Most People

    Look, something pissed you off. I get it. Shit pisses me off, too. But, dear god, write something funny about it, don’t just string together paragraph after paragraph of rhetorical questions peppered with italicized words. Or if you can’t be funny, strive for something brief, like the office worker who would like a cleaner microwave or the art teacher who really needs the last of the candybar money so she won’t have to keep making trips to the bank.

  • Paul S

    Maybe they do know many of the other people on the email and can’t be bothered with having to scroll through the names to remove yours, you self-centered prick.  Or maybe they just don’t care about how you feel because they heard from the mutual friend that you’re an asshole.

  • Jonathon Ferrari

    This is actually Amanda’s fault for not using BCC.  Standard CC’s are an open invite to a reply to all.

    Also, stop pretending the delete button is such a pain in the ass.  You’re not that important and neither is your time.

    • Richa Kashelkar

      Hahaha! Totally agrre with Jonathon. Get over it girl :)

  • Sarah

    i was waiting for you to say john replied with something like “having a massive orgy party on saturday, hope you can make it” or holly replying with “im busy friday night selling speed on the corner of 52nd street, ill save ya some!” but that never happened, thus my disappointment of this article is tremendous…

  • RogerThat

    I’ll read more of your articles to put this one in better context, but my first impression is that you write about the first stupid idea that comes to mind. 

  • Emma

    Every time I get an email – any email – I sing “I just got an e-maaaail!!”
    (It’s to the tune of “Go-go power rangerrrrs!”)
    A reply-all email is another reason to sing!

  • Ian C.

    I love Thought Catalog, but this is the most unfunny, passive aggressive article here thus far. 

  • guest

    by some fluke, someone was able to reply all to the recipients of a school mailing list i was on, that easily had thousands of people on it. i received about 800 emails in 24 hours and i didn’t even write an indigestible article about it.

  • Tia

    Do people seriously not get this? She’s getting at something more than the annoyance of John and Holly hitting the “reply all” button. TC readers should get this. Ugh, where are the Ryan O’ Connell fans?

  • Guest

    this was way too long.

  • Mariskaheidema

    Can’t say I don’t agree, but wouldn’t you say that your dear friend Amanda should have considered putting the addresses in bcc…?

  • Anonymous

    I recently got an email from a job I applied for and saw that it was sent to everyone who applied and listed inside were the times they wanted each person to come in to interview. Except my name was the only one that wasn’t on the list. Probably the rudest email I ever received and it wasn’t even really for me.

  • lcmhcf

    hahaha i guess when you send out a group email you should bcc everyone if they don’t know each other. amusing article.

  • Pjaime

    Sigh. OK, let’s begin:

    1. “I don’t even know if you know each other, or if you are as much of strangers tethered by circumstance as I am to each of you.”

    “As much of strangers” is like nails on a fucking chalkboard. You mean “as much strangers *to me*, us tethered by circumstance, […]”, or something along those lines. But if you wouldn’t write “They are of strangers to me”, then you shouldn’t write “You guys are as much of strangers to me as they are.”

    2. “all of you would-be wasters of my digital flavor”

    What? Are you a sumptuous meal being served to ingrates, as pearls to swine? Then why are you writing about “flavor”? Unless you are referring to your time wasters of the digital flavor (in which case you wouldn’t say “my”), you mean “FAVOR.” As in, “Hastily written articles such as these spoil what little good favor I hold Thought Catalog in.”

    3. “into a single outing simply in order to check us all off of a list.”

    Nope. You mean “check us all off ON a list.” The names don’t stop being on the list once they’re checked off. You find them ON the list and then you check the names off … ON the list. The “off” pertains to the names, not the list.

    4. “And did you think at all, John and Holly, of we other 18 recipients of Amanda’s email?”

    As the late David Foster Wallace once wrote in the margins of a student paper he once had to edit, “I hate you.” If I am being thought of by you, then you are thinking of ME. NOT I. Same goes here. The “we” is a motherfucking object of the verb “think.” You mean “And did you think at all […] of US eighteen recipients of Amanda’s email?” And yes, the number gets spelled out. In letters. But that’s not even close to being my biggest problem with this writing.

    I don’t actually have the strength of will to go on without lapsing into unkind remarks about the parents who raised such a reckless user of the English language, but by now I am about six overly adverbial paragraphs into this trainwreck of an article. The fact that you are averaging more than one serious grammatical error every other paragraph should give you pause.

    Maybe you should think more carefully about your own online communications before accusing others of stuff.

    • Pjaime

      ‘As the late David Foster Wallace once wrote in the margins of a student paper he once had to edit, “I hate you.” ‘ – Gah. I actually wrote “once” twice. See what the blinding rage you inspired has caused me to do?

  • Biff

    Yeah, Natalie, this is pretty lame. It’s a lame excuse for a rant, it’s a lame excuse for using up storage on some server somewhere. And pretty sad that you take John and Holly’s “reply all” in such a cynical way. Maybe your trolling, and you caught me.

    I found this bit of unnecessary flotsam while searching for “why people DON’T use ‘reply all’, my latest pet peeve.

    If there is someone to point a finger towards, it’s actually Amanda, who probably should have used BCC, rather than open up her list of friends for all to see. If she only knew how sensitive her friends are, she should have protected their inboxes.

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