July 22, 2024

Is Anyone There?

Betsy Rapoport, an editor and life coach, said: “I don’t believe I have ever received an answer from any e-mail I’ve ever sent my children, now 21 and 18. Unless you count ‘idk’ as a response.”

The British linguist David Crystal said that his wife recently got a reply to an e-mail she sent in 2006. “It was like getting a postcard from the Second World War,” he said.

The roaring silence. The pause that does not refresh. The world is full of examples of how the anonymity and remove of the Internet cause us to write and post things that we later regret. But what of the way that anonymity and remove sometimes leave us dangling like a cartoon character that has run off a cliff?

For every fiery screed or gushy, tear-streaked confession in the ethersphere, it seems there’s a big patch of grainy, unresolved black. Though it would comfort us to think that these long silences are the product of technical failure or mishap, the more likely culprits are lack of courtesy and passive aggression.

“The Internet is something very informal that happened to a society that was already very informal,” said P. M. Forni, an etiquette expert and the author of “Choosing Civility.” “We can get away with murder, so to speak. The endless amount of people we can contact means we are not as cautious or kind as we might be. Consciously or unconsciously we think of our interlocutors as disposable or replaceable.”

Judith Kallos, who runs a site on Internet etiquette called netmanners.com, said the No. 1 complaint is that “people feel they’re being ignored.”

I certainly felt ignored when a young editorial assistant at a magazine asked me to send important information to her but never acknowledged receipt of same. I waited 72 hours for her reply, and then sent the information again with a note saying, “Just re-sending in case you didn’t receive.” When another 48 hours elapsed without a reply from her, I resent the information again, this time appended, “I’m resending this because I have no way of knowing whether or not you received it.”

Some six hours later, I started composing a third note — “Could you tell me if you’ve received this e-mail, please, as I am about to have a small sliver of my brain removed in surgery, and would love for this sliver to be unclouded by doubt”— which, fortunately, her response minutes later kept me from sending.

Some scenarios are even more extended. Diana Abu-Jaber, a novelist, said that a few years ago she had “a whole nonrelationship” with a fellow writer in Portland, Ore., who would not hit the reply button.

The two women had mutual friends, and had hit it off when they went out for lunch. Thereafter, the woman started sending Ms. Abu-Jaber e-mails proposing more get-togethers; but she would never respond to Ms. Abu-Jaber’s replies regarding specific times and places for them.

Ms. Abu-Jaber said, “I wouldn’t hear anything, then suddenly, weeks later, she’d send another e-mail: ‘Are you free? I’d love to see you.’ Or even: ‘It’s been ages! This is nuts! I miss you!’ We managed to have one more lunch together during which she vaguely pouted about my crazy schedule, and somehow implied that if only I were more available, we’d see a lot more of each other. It drove me out of my mind.”

Five years ago, Jean Villepique, the comedian who would go on to play Tracy Morgan’s therapist on “30 Rock,” developed an intense crush on a colleague.

Ms. Villepique celebrated her 30th birthday by buying a pair of expensive spectator-pump Mary Janes and then going out for drinks with co-workers. Soon, “I was in a cab, shamelessly showing off my new shoes to my crush,” she said. “His probably neutral response was interpreted by me as gamey flirting.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0e0bff76f4633380afdbeb8a269633fe

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