In my previous posts The Pen is Mightier... and Royal Arch Masons Secretly control Gmail I outlined some of the benefits of using Email for lodge business. Those two posts are full of reasons why lodges should be using email, but they do not touch on the how. As with all social interactions, email is part of a greater culture and carries with it certain social expectations. Users of email expect that the people they communicate with will adhere to certain acceptable email behaviors and will have adopted the proper etiquette of the internet.
While some people still hold to the belief that the internet is some lawless wasteland where typically social behavior is not necessary, they are most certainly incorrect. The computers, the internet and email are all just tools. If you are not willing to do something in the "real" world, then you should not do it on the internet, especially in regards to interpersonal communication. A simple rule of thumb is "you should never send an email that you would not say to the person's face or send through the normal postal service."
Another key factor in email etiquette is recognizing that the shear volume of email that the average person receives is orders of magnitude larger than that which a person receives via the normal postal service. In a February 2007 article, Information Week reported that the average email user receives 20 emails a day of which %70 is junk mail. Since the rate of email transfer nearly doubles every year, that means that the average internet user receives nearly 60 emails a day now with approximately 18 of them being real emails. For those of us in the technology field, this number can get much, much larger. I receive between 30-60 work related, non-junk emails a day, in addition to the 20-40 personal, non-junk emails I receive each day. This is compounded by hundreds of pieces of spam, bacn (email lists that you subscribed to) and forwards. That is a huge amount of information to process everyday!
Why do I bring up the volume of email that people receive? Because by filling people's inboxes with junk, you're wasting their time and energy, which could be better spent on Masonry! For brothers in the technology field, they could spend hours a day working with their email. By not following simple internet etiquette (or netiquette), you could waste not only his time, but his employer's time.
Now, I can quickly imagine my readers saying to themselves, "Masons always act like gentlemen and would never waste someone's time or send them something they shouldn't!" This is simply not the case. I have been bombarded with garbage email from friends, family and Masons alike. In fact, I have received huge amounts of garbage mail from the brothers of my lodge.
To help combat this ever growing problem of poor email etiquette, I will list ten "don't's" and ten "do's" for proper email etiquette. If a brother is bombarding you with garbage mail, please feel free to send them a link to this post and hopefully he'll realize the errors of his ways. Here we go!
First and Foremost! Remember Rule 0 - "you should never send an email that you would not say to the person's face or send through the normal postal service"
Email Etiquette - Don't's!
- Do not forward junk mail, chain letters, spam, jokes, pictures - "Fwd" is the most hated abbreviation in an email subject line. 99% of the time, "Fwd" means complete garbage. By forwarding every cute/funny/perverse/spiritual piece of junk mail that passes into your inbox, you undermine your e-credibility in the eyes of the receiver and he will be less likely to open anything of yours in the future, because all you send is junk. There are people that I know, who I never read their emails anymore, because they send so much junk. They are then puzzled when I don't read the occasional real email they send. Publisher's Clearinghouse could send me a very important letter today, but I would never read it, because I know that all they send is junk. Don't be like Publisher's Clearinghouse!
- Do not send material that is Not Safe For Work without a warning - First of all, I would say that you should never send pornography or any other offensive material through email. This usually falls under Rule 0 and Don't #1, but if you are going to send potentially offensive material via email anyway, please put a warning on it. Most people sending offensive material will add the acronym NSFW (Not Safe For Work) to the subject of an email to warn someone not to open it at work. Not only can offensive material insult people, it can potentially get them in serious trouble at their place of work. The bottomline is don't send offensive material, but if you're going to anyway, Warn The Recipient!
- Do not send political or religious material - This should go without saying. These two topics are not allowed in lodge, because they divide rather then unite. So, why send them via email to your brothers? It makes people uncomfortable and potentially angry.
- Do not type in all Caps - WHEN SOMEONE WRITES LIKE THIS ON THE INTERNET IT MEANS THEY ARE YELLING!!!!! This is considered very rude and can make people annoyed even if the content or tone is friendly.
- Don't overuse acronyms, emotions, abbreviations - BTW, FYI acr, emo & abb can mk emails hrd to rd :( Once again, emails do not have to be filled with flowery prose and unnecessary verbiage, but it must be readable and understandable. An email recipient should not have to have an advanced degree in cryptography or logic to decode your message about the "pot-luck dinner next Thursday." It should be short and to the point, but easy to read and understand. Typing on a cell phone isn't an excuse for sending an undecipherable message. Check out my post about Jott for a great tool for writing large emails via a cell service.
- Do not send files of unknown origin - The single greatest factor in the spread of computer viruses is email attachments. Many viruses, spyware, trojan horses, malware, etc. are spread via email attachments, like photos, movies, word processing documents and spreadsheets. If you didn't create it, don't forward it to someone else. Cutesy/funny photos and movies will be the downfall of not only your computer, but the other poor recipients you send them to.
- Do not deliver bad news via email - If you must send a message about a death, divorce, financial hardship or some other piece of bad news, make it personal and call the brother or tell him face to face. Email is quick, handy and efficient, but it is a poor substitute for delivering information that requires a personal touch. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call!
- Do not send an email when you are angry - If you're upset about a vote in lodge or the actions of a brother, do not express it through email. People are much more likely to take offensive when they are reading via email. Furthermore, an angry email can be easily forwarded and cause a rapid escalation of a confrontation, while drawing others into the conflict. Many bitter arguments have been resolved over a cup of coffee, but very few have been resolved while staring at a computer monitor.
- Do not send important personal information via email - We must be very careful with what is sent via email. Email is not secure and can be easily read while in transit from one server to another. Account numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, scans of IDs, etc. should not be sent via email. There are Secure Email Services that will allow you to send secure messages, if both users have accounts with the service. Check out 4securemail as an example of such a service.
- Do not send sensitive lodge business or private Masonic ritual via email - Like what was said in Don't #9, email is not secure. Lodge business and Masonic secrets should not be sent via email for the same reason.