I love the convenience and speed of email when it’s used for good.
I friggin’ hate the ease and speed of email when it’s used for evil.
In the former category, I include my ability to get in touch with students, friends, and family spread across continents and times zones at the blink of an eye. I include my ability to have documented conversations, should I need them, to refer back to for reference later. And I definitely include my love of the ability to search by keyword in my inbox, as this girl’s memory sure ain’t what it used to be (plus I just get a ton of email on a daily basis).
In the latter, I include all forms of SPAM (insert Death to SPAM chant here), and anytime anyone has pushed the send button without thinking things through fully. Personally or professionally. Sometimes, there really ought to be a waiting period for sending email, just like there is for gun purchases.
And, oh, the ease with which anyone can reach anyone else! Remember in pre-Internet days, when you actually had to figure out who to direct a letter to? Take the time and energy to research who to complain to by calling the company? And when you mailed a letter, you could only reach as many people as you took the time to address envelopes to?
About ten years ago, I had an online graduate student who I’d never met in person, never seen a picture or demographic information of, and whose name was something very generic – like Bob Smith (not his real name). (The key elements to this story are italicized for dramatic effect).
The only thing I did know about him was what he chose to share in his biographical post – he was an executive getting his masters in Instructional Design. Fair enough. He also was falling behind and reached out to me for some advice on how to best to get caught up in my course. After looking at the various assignments he was missing, what was still available to complete and what had passed and was no longer available to him in the time remaining, I shared one of my favorite sayings, “deal with the closest alligator to the boat” – meaning whatever assignment was about to be late next, do it…the others had already gone by. Three weeks later, when the alligators were completely full and resting on the river bank and he got a C instead of an A, I got a call from my program director. Bob had emailed the Provost. Directly. Without talking to anyone else. And in his email, he’d implied my comment was racist and he was being unfairly targeted – which was why he had a C. The provost, of course, was like WTF? to my program director who was like WTF? to me.
Racist? To what? Alligators? I had no idea what race Bob was!
The issue went away very quickly once the course interactions, assignments, and due dates were open to inspection. I document well, and I provide a lot of feedback – and all communication is through the LMS system – it was a silly grasping at straws to get out of a poor grade. However the experience has stuck with me. The ease with which this student completely jumped the appropriate channels for making that kind of complaint. The email address of the Provost, like a sitting duck, for anyone to email. That accusations, once out there, even in digital print, have the potential to stain, even though it may only live in the realm of Colbert’s truthiness instead of the actual truth, It invites the crazy.
Now I am in administration – somewhat on the other side of the desk. Yesterday I walked an instructor through a situation dealing with a student who’d plagiarized. The student, of course, emailed their complaint of “unfair treatment” right to me and the VP of Instruction instead of working with the instructor. Everything old is new again.
I’m heading to a conference for a few days…it means three days off email – or at least monitoring it loosely from a distance. Would it be so bad if I just highlighted and marked it all as read when I get back? If it’s super important, you’ll just email me again, right?