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Saturday, November 15, 2008

‘Reply All’ can be a weapon of mass destruction

Technology is quick, cheap and easy—it can also be deadly

Kavita Kukday-Deb

It took just one silly email to break my marriage of four years,'' laments Raj Mathur. "How I wish I could turn time back.''  Turning time back is as impossible as turning back technology. Ask Mathur about that one errant FWD email that was the beginning of the end. It started as a simple email to all his friends where he quoted an excerpt from the latest book of his favourite author. As it happened, his friend list included his ex-girlfriend who immediately replied with a sonnet. Back gushed Mathur, "Oh I remember this one. It used to be our sonnet! To tell you the truth even after four years of marriage I still can't feel the same connection with my wife that we had ...will I ever get over you?''
    Later, when it hit home that he had hit the Reply All button, and sent the email to his wife too, he knew he was on the road to Splitsville.
    A broken marriage might be an extreme case, but tales of emails and instant messages going to the wrong person and causing trouble are only too common. In fact, there's even a term for it, the "Oh no second'', which are the words one utters in anguish after hitting the Send key. Shweta Rao, a Delhi resident, tells a story of a friend's husband who sent an email to a group of 20-odd friends with an attachment that said 'Our baby's first snap'. Apparently, however, he had forwarded a picture of the birthing process instead. Realising his folly, he immediately shot off another email saying please don't open the earlier picture. Needless to say the next email arrived a second too late. Oh no!
    Angad Mehra, a marketing manager in Mumbai still cringes at his most embarrassing email-moment. "My wife's name is Sumit, and unfortunately my VP is also called Sumit. After a couple of 'Hey honeybee! What's cooking? How about a candle
light at the beach tonight?' the VP called me into his cabin. Thank God for his sense of humour!''
    Mehra's case was mild compared to Rima Madan, a finance executive with a garment company. After a long email fight with a client, she decided to escalate the matter to her boss. She simply forwarded the entire email thread with an additional, "This fellow is getting on my nerves. You please
deal with this pain!!'' Instead of sending it to the boss, she sent it back to the client. He was the company's biggest customer and Madan is currently unemployed. Enough said.
    Instant messages or IMs are next in the line of weapons of mass destruction. Pradeep Iyer, an advertising consultant based in Bangalore talks about his mortifying IM experience. "Amongst our group of friends
it's common to call each other names, so one day when I saw my school buddy online, I sent an IM that read, 'How goes jackass'? He signed off without answering. An hour later he called to tell me that his laptop was projecting a product presentation to a client on a huge screen when my IM popped open. I was mortified.''
    Earlier, IMs used to be lesser evils since they seemed to disappear into
thin air once you had sent them. However, thanks to chat clients like Gmail that save every single chat, these can be dangerous now. Especially if your parents get to your emails. Tasneem Kazi, a commerce student, made that mistake. Once she quickly needed some details from her email so she asked her mom to log on. Along with the mail, her mom went through her chat discussion with a girlfriend where they were planning a wine party. This of course led to her being grounded for a month. Far worse, the broken trust hasn't been rebuilt.
    Technology can be cheap, quick and easy but it can leave a trail of deadly destruction if it goes astray.
Don't hit Reply All
Reply All and Auto fill aren't your friends. Unfortunately the Reply and Reply All buttons are next to each other. Check, and check again, to make sure a response intended for one person isn't going to the group. Even if your email client offers it, refuse Auto fill's help as much as you can.
    Write an email or a chat conversation as though you were writing on a postcard that anyone can read. Save the personal and saucy gossip for a phone call or face-to-face meet.
    Pause before you hit the Send button. There are times you send an email on impulse and the minute you hit Send, you regret it. Don't dash off an email in anger, because in the end, it's written communication in cold, hard print that can be held against you. If you find restraint difficult, you might want to try Google Mail goggles, a new under-development tool that stops you from sending emails you might regret later.


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