Millennial Emails


It’s 5 pm on Friday and I’m at my local. Just a beer and a shot to celebrate the end of the week. Though celebrate might be a misused word in this particular occasion, more I needed to leave my house in order to avoid writing angry emails.

I tell my students that under no circumstances should you write an email while angry. They often solve nothing while only serving to escalate the issue and lose face. So, instead of doing any of that, I’m having a quiet drink in the sanctity of my local pub, which, most importantly, is about 500 feet away from my computer and inbox.

Students are often lacking in the area of common etiquette. They talk in class, come late with no explanation or apology, or cause more work for others without much of a thought. This is a perennial situation and one which no doubt I was guilty of as well. What separates the current us and them is technology; with it they have so many more avenues in which to be fully void of etiquette or common manners.

A phone or tablet brings an entire world to the holder’s hand. But while some understand that there’s a time and place for exploiting those possibilities, a great deal of millennials don’t seem to comprehend not being able to look at or do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want. As a teacher I get a front row seat to it all. Students decide that I’m not saying something interesting at that moment, so they’re on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram. Others pass e-notes on Whatsapp. Another student mugs for a selfie right then, puckers her lips, makes sure to get a scattered section of background of students and boring lecture hall. Title: So Bored! Another guy plays a video game.

This is a common complaint about millennials. They are tech savvy, capable, and in many ways light years ahead of where I was at that age, but concepts that are common sense to others, such as don’t play video games in a college lecture, are not getting through to many of them. When I tell students before an exam that they have to turn their phones off, there is a definite moment of palpable, uncomprehending horror, as if I had just told a grown adult to turn off their kidneys for 90 minutes. The general theme seems to be What do you mean I can’t do what I want? I want to do it…

As someone who works with young people, I think a lot of the problem stems from being able to always have one foot in the real world and one foot in the virtual world. One thing is for sure, this is certainly a culprit in their etiquette breaches. I get essays in text speak and Twitter reduction, and emailed attachments with no supporting details. Whether they intend to or not, the resulting impression is that they are less involved. I really didn’t want to do this, but I guess I had to so here…

Imagine sending an attachment to your boss or one of your colleagues. An excel sheet. A contract. A proposal. A laundry receipt after he knocked a glass of Chianti into your lap. Now imagine sending that attachment with literally no accompanying note or email. Nothing. No greeting. No explanation. Not your name or my name. Nothing. Just an attachment in a blank email.

On top of this imagine that the person you’ve sent this to has more than 200 students and hundreds of colleagues and associates. Imagine further than the attachment is in Russian. Let me ask any of you: have you, or would you ever, open an attachment in Russian from an unknown source? Right.

Yesterday, I dedicated about 15 minutes of my lecture to the nuts and bolts of email etiquette. Today, twenty hours later, while sifting through my university inbox, I received two (2) blank emails with attachments. They had come, as you may have guessed, from students who had been in that lecture. Video games. Instagram. Messenger. One foot in, one foot out.

So you can understand my need for a pub visit. No angry emails. And if I had stayed at my computer, I would have made grave mistakes in judgment. Not only do I not want to make an error in judgment, the fact is that I like these students. And while I do not think this is a personal slight, it’s hard not to be put off by things like this. It’s rude. So I walked to my pub and took out my notebook (um, the kind that needs a pen). Just to get the ball rolling, I wrote: Don’t write an angry email.

It’s a good piece of advice, but I wonder if I’m the only person in the room who got it.

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