Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Emails Gone Astray

Email.   One of the love-hate relationships of the modern age.  We’re lost when our email systems are down, but those same systems can make us insane.  It’s an addiction, but gets a free pass from intervention and therapy because it’s so damned useful.

It’s also so damned dangerous.  It’s pretty hard to dial a wrong phone number and say something bad (though I have been accidentally speed-dialed a time or two by a relative who thought they were calling their bank) and harder still to think you are talking to your friend face to face and instead be talking to your supervisor .  But once we leave it to the press of a Send or OK button or the Enter key, well, anything can happen. 

I once sent an email expressing concern/criticism to a colleague and that person escalated our conflict by not replying to me one-on-one but rather copying the entire staff, including our boss.  Our boss then escalated it beyond the pale by the email equivalent of yelling at me, and did so copying the entire staff.  The boss then blamed me for copying the group—which I hastened to clarify was not the case.  It took an uncomfortable situation and made it an unforgiveable one.  The icing on the cake was the next day when yet another co-worker bumbled and sent an email to my disingenuous colleague bitchily saying I had a lot of “chutzpah” criticizing her , but, you guessed it, sent the email to me instead. 

This was a mess, but not as much of a mess as an incident that had taken place years earlier with a former colleague from another job whose email gaffe—in the political and diplomatic arenas—landed him in the daily newspaper.  Ouch. 

Recently, an employee at a vendor I use accidentally forwarded to me rather than to one of their supervisors a scathing complaint from another customer.  Oops!  I’ve often been on receiving end of stray client emails meant for other Karens (including ones working at my competitors).  And one time I was copied on a snarky email between two people at a business I that had been my client for years but whose marketing contact had recently left so these two people were now trying to make their mark by cutting me from the budget.  Oops! I have sent internal memos (thank goodness nothing sensitive) to a former source for an article I wrote by accident because the first three letters of her email address were the same as my boss’.  Oops!  And curses on that “auto-fill” function!

But I am sure these kinds of gaffes happen thousands, if not millions, of times a day in offices and homes across the globe, the likelihood increasing with an individual’s volume of email traffic.  Daughters are complaining to their sisters about their mothers and the remarks are ending up in poor Mom’s email; snide coworker comments are ending up being sent to clients; a guy’s bravado about a date conquest is ending up in his date’s email instead of his buddy’s; an executive gets an email that was meant for her competitor-- the possibilities are endless. 

And what is the etiquette when one is on the receiving end of a misdirected email?  If the person sending it and/or the person who was supposed to receive it will be in trouble if they don’t know the communication has gone astray (if, for example, an appointment is being rescheduled), then simply hit reply and say “I believe this was sent to me in error.”  As for more politically charged situations, well, it all depends. Are we taking the high road or not?  Are we trying to have the last word or not?  My policy is usually “silence is golden” and I have, I confess, been known to take pleasure imagining that a person who sent a mean-spirited email realizes their error on their own and worries… Miss Manners may disagree with me, of course.

I wondered if these email gaffes were also playing out with younger people, with text messaging and instant messaging.  Or are young people already so transparent with the details of their personal lives on social networking that it’s a moot point?  I was assured by a young friend that they were just as vulnerable.  She was at the moment nervous that texts she was sending a new boyfriend would accidentally get sent to her freshly-broken-up-with old boyfriend instead, with their names starting with the same first letter.

What’s your best—or worst—email error (or sabotage) story?  Go to the Post Comment section below and tell all!  Change names to protect the innocent (or more importantly, yourself) if you like, but spill!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Innie or Outie?

I have two sides, two aspects to my personality that are held uncomfortably together sometimes while other times one pushes into dominance.

I am an introvert AND an extrovert. I can be quite convivial, vivacious even, at social events of a not-too- overwhelming size.  Other times I could draw a box around myself perhaps six feet out on all sides and be happy to walk in the world with my privacy intact.  Yet other times I remove myself from the game entirely and shut down in my free time, staying in and trying to recharge in solitude. 

I tend to gravitate to others who also have this mixed state, who will sometimes become almost hermitic when life becomes overwhelming. Though I understand it, it can also hurt if I am in a reaching- out mode and they in a turning-in mode. We each take our chances. 

My oh-so Western desire for privacy and space has been particularly challenged over the years in my forays in to the Asian world.  When I was straight out of college off to Taipei, Taiwan for a year, I was fortunately able to kick the social me into hyper gear.  A good thing, too, for space and privacy are entirely alien concepts in Asian culture.  I took my time there to be some magical adventure and was wide open to it all, the crowds, the cacophony, the pollution, the crazy traffic, the pulsing beat of the city and the astonishing warmth of people.  Nearly two decades later I had a very different experience of living in Tianjin, which was one of the most densely populated and most polluted cities in the world.  It Then I found the stares and the complete inability to set foot out the door without being gawked at and even followed, whether lacking in malice or not, completely intolerable.  Eventually I became nearly agoraphobic.

My ex-husband, who is Chinese, was never able to understand the side of me that sometimes craved privacy and space.  I was expected to be open to last-minute company and invasive requests 24/7 and woe to me if I wasn’t, for then I was accused of being “selfish,” the harshest judgment he could bring to bear. 

Now, I walk precariously on the tightrope between my interior world and my exterior world.  I have worked from home for 13 years now, four of them alone since my son left for college.  Most of my work is by email and phone, which sometimes suits me fine and gives me some small measure of control in a very chaotic work environment.  Other times I feel painfully isolated.  Aware of a tendency to sink into depression if I don’t get out some (though equally possible if I don’t get enough solitude) at one point last summer I became a social butterfly, going to singles events every weekend, and loving it.  This summer I feel too easily over-stimulated, and choose my outings more carefully, usually preferring time with close friends that allows for quiet conversation to mob scene happy hours that roll into my email inbox every week.  I’m going for quality, not quantity, and planting my roots deep rather than shallow.  I don’t enjoy big festivals much don’t like the crowds, but still sometimes have to force myself out. 

So here I sit most happily at poolside in my neighborhood on a hot Sunday afternoon, after floating around in the water for an hour, now reading and writing.  I’ve seen one of my son’s best friends, which I always like because it connects me to a time gone by (I actually think I see more of him than my own son these days, as he still lives in the neighborhood).  Next to me a woman I lived on a cul de sac with—our dogs were friends—has plopped down to read in companionable silence, and another neighbor stops by to catch up.  There’s a not-unpleasant background buzz of kids playing and splashing about, and parents who move from joining in the play to flattening onto a chaise for some sun.  The sky is blue, blue, blue with just a puff of white cloud here and there.  The gorgeous, mature trees around the outer edges create some shade and breeze, but don’t block the sun from the center.  The European lifeguards enjoy their last few weeks here before returning to their home countries for the school year.

I am surrounded by people but alone, perfectly at peace, enjoying the summer too soon to come to a  close, holding my introvert cum extrovert self, for one afternoon, in balance.