An e-mail answered.

On the subject of answering emails: It seems as though there are different stages an unanswered email goes through, each with different difficulty levels and layers of requirements.

Stage 1) The Quick Response
In this stage, an email has just arrived in the Inbox. You read it and quickly dash off a reply. Note that the reply needs to have some related content in it – not just a quick “I’ll get back to you soon”. “Get-back-to-you” responses do not count.
This response is easy to do, although the writer must overcome the inertia of doing something else in order to actually write the response. I’ll give it a 3 out of 10 for difficulty.

If the email languishes more than a day, it progresses to….

Stage 2) The Delayed Response
In this stage, the writer of the response has a couple of options. They can: pretend they didn’t see the email earlier and respond appropriately; respond without any explanation of the delay (which takes a sort of boorish pragmatism); or respond with an apology for the delay. A little harder to put together – we’ll give it a 6 out of 10 for difficulty.

If the email languishes more than 3 or 4 days, it moves to….

Stage 3)
In this stage, a responder must admit wrongdoing, or forego a response altogether. This one is especially awkward if the reason for the email has already passed by. Responders to an email this late must perform complex ablutions to explain the lack of response. Difficulty: 9 out of 10.

If the email languishes more than 2 weeks, we see….

Stage 4) Null response
In this stage, it is socially impossible to respond to the email. The recipient simply MUST ignore the email entirely. Difficulty of response: Divide-By-Zero. Usually the email is deleted.

If the email isn’t deleted, and a year or so passes, we move to the final stage….

Stage 5) Remember when….
In this stage, the recipient stumbles across the email when looking for something else or cleaning out the mailbox. At this point, responding to the email is frankly ridiculous and often humorous. A snicker or a chuckle may result from a response, especially a deadpan actual answer to the original inquiry ( e.g. “Yes, let’s do lunch” several years after the request). May be difficult to pull off if the original email was serious in nature. Difficulty: 4 out of 10.

2 thoughts on “An e-mail answered.

  • 1/9/2008 at 1:00 pm

    Oh I forgot about this post. This post is awesome.

  • 1/9/2008 at 1:06 pm


    I’ve gotten into a strange e-mail relationship with a few people where extended periods of time between e-mails is understood between both parties. It’s kind of like stage three… because e-mails come no more frequently than say… once every 3 weeks, except that no apology is needed.

    Also, the quality of the e-mails tend to be pretty high. It’s almost more like snail mail… typed.


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