Thursday, January 04, 2007

In Slow Motion

More often than not, I like to point out things in this world -- political, cultural, public, sociological -- that strike me as exceedingly stupid, moronic and/or foolish. However, that doesn't mean I'm entirely immune from this type of behavior myself. Now granted, I'm not suggesting I do stupid things with regularity -- I'm prone to modesty even more frequently than I am stupidity (and sarcasm) -- but when I do dumb things, I'm more than happy to share same with the readers of this space.

I came across an article entitled "Let the Sender Beware!" on the MSN home page that details various incidents of wrongly-sent e-mails and IM conversations. Every person I know has had, at one time or another, an incident with e-mail which they'd rather forget. Whether they sent an e-mail in anger that they subsequently wished they could rescind, sent a visceral, critical or too-honest e-mail to the object of their derision, somehow sent a very private e-mail to a list of co-workers rather than their significant other, or simply sent a business e-mail from a personal account, somehow we each have a story of e-mail embarrassment.

About a month ago, one of Kaia's fellow board members (who happens to also be a friend of hers) of a charitable, non-business entity had received a particularly curt, attitudinal mass e-mail from the head of the board. In response, Kaia's friend responded to the e-mail and intended to send it to only Kaia; unfortunately, in her irritation, she mistakenly hit "reply all" and forgot to omit all but Kaia's name from the list of recipients. As a result, the little, attitudinal e-mail sent from the head of the board managed to spark an all-day back-and-forth that saw Kaia's friend extremely embarrassed and having to come up with a quick, on-the-spot excuse as to why she responded to the original writer's e-mail with "God, she's such a bitch!" Based on the details, it actually worked out well -- she made an excuse that her response was in connection with another e-mail, but no one -- especially the bitchy head of the board -- believed it. The story has a happy ending, however; the head of the board got the (unintended) message and noticeably thereafter softened her tone.

However, there have been other mis-steps. One of my big-time clients -- not my biggest, but one whose account is well into the seven-figure mark -- left me a message on my cell-phone requesting an update on a particular matter. So I prepped a detailed, cogent response, outlining our progress, our immediate and long-term goals, and a breakdown of the timeline to date and our prognostication of where (and when) the matter was going. And I sent it to him without delay. When he called and asked me to send the same thing in a follow-up to the CEO of the construction company/contractor who was handling all the work, I did so; however, somehow it was sent to the contractor not from my business e-mail address but from a personal one with the name "Boogie" in the title.


When I realized my mistake (after I recovered from thinking HOLY SHIT, I'VE E-MAILED A BUSINESS ENTITY WITH A BOOGIE E-MAIL ACCOUNT) I called and explained that I used the wrong e-mail address and re-sent the whole package from my work e-mail. The construction company CEO had no issue; in fact, he laughed and occasionally refers to me as Boogie. It's not quite a badge of honor, but it does remind me to be incredibly careful with the dozen or so e-mail addresses I juggle on my work PC.

The thing is, the "slow motion" of doing something you know you shouldn't actually applies. I remember once locking myself out of my own apartment; it was back when I used two keychains, one for work and one for business. I was going downstairs to do laundry, so I got my bag o' laundry together, the detergent, the bounce sheets and my wallet, grabbed my keys and headed out the door. It was as my front door was closing when I realized -- in slow motion, watching the door slamming shut -- that I had grabbed my work keys and not my home keys. The door slammed, and like a schmuck, I was left standing there with my doorman watching, trying not to laugh and call me a dumb-ass or something akin thereto.

I eventually was able to get back into my place, and all -- since -- is well. I haven't been locked out since (although now, since I'm writing this here, I expect to be locked out again in the next few days). The moral is that it's a lot easier sensing one has done something stupid -- like e-mailing a friend to complain about one's boss, only to realize the person who you actually e-mailed IS your boss -- when the physical, tangible item is there in front of you. Computer stuff is electronic, so it's just a matter of pixels and light before your eyes. Being good is not always an option, but being careful should, and must, be.

One final word of advice: once something has been committed to e-mail, instant message or some other electronic form of publishing, it's there forever. Paper can be burned, crumpled up and/or destroyed, but electrons, pixels and binary 1's and 0's -- like a diamond -- last forever. You, the reader, can print this out, wad it up and use it to line a birdcage or wrap fish or in an emergency when you run out of Charmin, but this -- unfortunately or otherwise -- is here to stay.

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