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Mind the Gap

Our blogs are platforms from which we share our experiences, opinions, and views with the online world. For Mind the Gap challenges,…

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Our blogs are platforms from which we share our experiences, opinions, and views with the online world. For Mind the Gap challenges, we want to hear what you think about a divisive issue. Each challenge will include a poll where you can cast your vote along with your fellow Daily Post participants. After you vote, tell us more about how you feel by expanding on the topic in a blog post. Be sure to visit other participants’ posts to get some healthy discussion going.

To participate, tag your posts with DPchallenge and leave a link to your post in the comments. Please be sure your post has been specifically written in response to this challenge; link-baiters beware! We’ll keep an eye on the tag and highlight some of our favorites on Freshly Pressed on Friday.

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Close your eyes for a second and imagine your life without e-mail. Open your eyes again: if you saw nothing, it’s probably because you can’t imagine an inbox-less existence. It’s rare for a (relatively) new communication technology to transform our habits so radically, but email clearly has. From the speed with which we receive messages, to the frequent (dare we say obsessive?) checking of our accounts, to, finally, the tone with which we address each other, it’s easy to draw a line between our pre- and post-email days (of course, for anyone born in the 1990s and after, email is the only thing that ever was).

Is it time for an informality backclash?

“Hey!” “Hi, Ben!” “Ben!” Over the past few years, we’ve all received emails starting with these types of non-salutations (and others with no salutation to speak of). These come not only from our friends and family, but also from colleagues up and down the work hierarchy, from those far younger than us, as well as from complete strangers. Some people take this informal approach as a sign of civilization’s impending doom. Others say ‘good riddance!’ to the dusty, moldy conventions of the past.

There is something to be said for the egalitarian, time-efficient communication we get when we strip away layers of stilted formality from our writing. At the same time, we certainly lose some of the more fun — and sometimes necessary — elements of self-expression: the ability to convey respect, to add a personal flair to otherwise impersonal formulae, and to distinguish between different levels of speech. Email flattens our approach to written communication, for better and for worse.

Yo, Dear Sir!

Where do you stand on the grand salutation question? Do you instinctively write “Dear…” even to your siblings? Do you drop any attempt at deference even when writing to your boss, professor, government representative? Do you mix-and-match depending on your audience’s status, age, or culture? Answer the poll below, and then, in a separate post on your own blog, expand on your thoughts regarding etiquette in the age of email. Stories, anecdotes, poems, opinion pieces, essays short and long — all are welcome contributions. Don’t forget to tag your post with DPchallenge, so that we can all read your take on email (in)formality.

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  1. You did this identical one not long ago with Facebook. Email is really not a divisive issue. Neither was Facebook. There are a lot of real issues, but I just can’t get worked up over email. Seriously, there’s a lot of big stuff going on in the world … this is a non-issue.

    1. In some arenas – like higher ed – this is actually a big issue. I work at a small, student-centered liberal arts college, and though we get to know our students well and personally (that’s the point of their attending, after all) not all students are mature enough to handle informality. When they address their faculty like their BFFs, that can undermine their own ability to handle the constructive feedback they inevitably receive from said faculty. A little formality goes a long way when status differences actually matter.

      1. If you are talking about formal communication with superiors, teachers, employers and colleagues, there is typically a standard for that at the school/workplace etc. There certainly was when I was working. Bosses and co-workers can be picky about that sort of thing. Professors too. I’ve actually written guides for students and faculty to deal with this. That’s not a choice: there are rules and standards. Follow them or you will pay a penalty.

        As for personal emails? There are no rules. There never were. It’s between you and your friends and family.

    2. Hi @teepee12 — you’d mentioned that you didn’t think the Facebook post and email salutations were controversial. I’m curious about what you didn’t mention, though: what subjects do you consider controversial?

      1. Fair enough. The underlying issue isn’t “salutations,” email or Facebook.

        It’s manners. Civility. Appropriate tone and content. Formality versus informality. Not a salutation.That’s just a couple of words at the top of a message.

        The trouble starts after that. How to understand a social context and structure. The nature of internet communications with people other than friends or family Respecting boundaries. What’s appropriate for what kind of forum? Comments? Facebook? Private email? Talking to a superior vs. an equal? It’s very complicated and there don’t seem to be any sensible rules to follow.

        The younger generation grew up texting, not talking. They used codes instead of words. A bit of structure might help everyone not misunderstand each other, you think??

  2. Honestly, it depends on who I’m talking and the situation. Anything to friends usually just starts with “Hey!” or something along those lines. Professional email take a more formal letter-writing style. To people I don’t know (for example, if I’m buying something from Kijiji), I’ll just use a simple “Hello.”

  3. Dear Comments Section,

    People here clearly don’t understand the importance of formal greetings and formal writing in general and they are irritated by the topic because they can only see their half – part of the reason why it is controversial! I will be writing something for this later.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Blue Pigeons

  4. I’m with TEEPEE12 on this. Making email salutation the topic of a weekly writing challenge is a facile attempt to redefine the word, divisive. If you needed any help selecting a divisive issue then why not read the news; Trayvon Martin leaps out at me this week as being a divisive issue that lots of Bloggers could have got stuck into. Pretending that whether or not we put, “Dear” at the top of an email is a divisive issue is beyond parody and deserves all the ridicule it gets.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bonsaimartin. I think the comments on this post suggest that while this topic might not be at the top of the headlines, it can still inspire some passionate reactions. Which is great.

      Mind the Gap challenges have offered a wide variety of issues to discuss, each divisive in its own particular way. I’m sure many future challenges will address hot-button issues more directly.

      In the meantime, I personally think that connecting this challenge topic with something like the Trayvon Martin story is not as ridiculous as it may initially sound. Consider how questions of appearance, dress code, and use of language — all highly related to the challenge topic at hand here — played into that tragedy. Consider how the first superficial impressions we have of others — whether the person wears a hoodie or addresses an email to a professor without salutation — might condition another’s reaction. Challenge prompts are always points of departure, and nothing stops the talented bloggers here from taking the topic in a direction that interests them; on the contrary, that would be wonderful, and will make for posts I’d be excited to read.

      1. Salutations, Huberman. Mind the gap? How about mind your step. Jesus, I’m still boiling over the Zimmerman debacle. Catch PBS last night? Brilliant debate among 3 blacks and 1 white white guy. Hah! That’s one of the points, right? It’s among, not versus. Yeah, bridge the gap but mind your step, watch your back.

  5. My response won’t be posted until tomorrow, but I do have some thoughts on the topic.

    This is not a divisive issue by any standard. Right now, almost 3/4ths of the poll’s votes have been for “The world is too complicated.” That’s English 101. I don’t think “Mind the Gap” was an appropriate label for this challenge.

    In spite of that, this is a valuable writing prompt because many people will benefit from reading the responses. Its timeliness and relevance seem to be beyond question.

  6. The first system worthy of the name “email” was created in 1965 by expanding on MIT’s CTTS. Email will be 50 in just two years. So I agree your “recent” is very “relative.”
    As for the topic itself: Email is vital in my field, but I spend much more time reading articles in my RSS reader. Now that vanishing from the face of our mother planet would inconvenience me much more. To illustrate, I currently have not a single unread email, but my reader is bursting in seams with 168 articles, most of which I want to read.

  7. I definitely change how I address someone in my email depending on the circumstance. There is a formality that is missing in business communication. When I have to reach someone by email, or receive an online response to a query, the wording is fairly indicative of the age group.

    I cannot imagine my life without email but there are definitely some courtesies that we sidestep.

    http://theempathyqueen.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/letters-were-lovely-for-poetry-and-verse-but-email-will-prevail-for-better-or-worse/

      1. Dear Carrico,

        I have spoken to people, by phone, after receiving an email from them. In my opinion, and experience, there is a difference in inferred meaning, slang and wording that correlates to age group and writing experience.

        I do not have a doctorate but am fairly astute. Additionally, I have needed to follow up by phone since you cannot always put everything in an email. Sometimes, we are just going to have to speak to each other and get that third dimension and expression of emotion.

        Best,
        The Empathy Queen

      2. I salute you, thempathiequeen. A salatory (damn, can’t spell it) effort, but evasive, none the less. “Did you ever have to make up yer mind…….”

  8. When was the last time anyone received a telegram? At the time, this new form of communication was the cat’s meow. There was no correctness or formality involved. The message was choppy, specific, direct , informative and usually demanded the user to reply ASAP. Formality used in snail mail was ingrained into the majority of us by our parents and teachers. Electronic media transformed the user’s mindset to shun the formal and accept the casual and immediate. Users have invented their own specialized shorthand form of the alphabet to communicate efficiently with one another. Our active mental processes are still catching up to what a majority of us now do at a subconscious level — communicate.That’s progress.

    1. When was the first time anyone received a letter, Gerry old man? I think this is also a pertinent question. As I recall, the recipient had the option of rejecting the missive if he/she thought the sender was a pain in the ass. In those days in, at le[st, the U.S., the recipient paid the postage. But times change, you might argue. Do they really? Maybe, maybe not. Further, this ‘transformed mindset’ you blog about: Sounds pretty thesis/antithesis…synthesis…to me. The alternative? Not sure yet, but Koestler’s Bricks to Babel is blowing me away.
      Nice talkin’ with you.

    1. Hell, baby, it’s better than mine: “Waar ben ik?” Anyway,salutations. My previous association with ‘blogs’ has been merely PressEurop. As one of the few admitted Americans, it got pretty bloody sometimes. Also, we tended to wander off into side issues, and, thus my inability to remember what I’m supposed to be blogging about. Perhaps that is something to keep in mind. My previous fellow blogger had written something beautifully constructed. Somehow, your comment came up. It was simple, direct, and I’ve decided to answer it in kind:
      Welcome aboard, baby.

  9. Err, scramble the order of options, and we’ll see if a new winner emerges.
    Err, howze about: Howze it hangin’?
    This is getting absurd. I have far more important things to do.
    This is my final salutation on the subject.

31 Responses Ready to write? To participate, publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More