Email Gone Astray: Manners for the Digital Age #9
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Farhad Manjoo: What to do when you get someone else's email.
Emily Yoffe: I'm Emily Yoffe, Slate's "Dear Prudence" advice columnist.
Farhad: I'm Slate's technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo, and this is "Manners for the Digital Age."
Emily: Today's question is from a listen who's annoyed about something we've all seen. The listener writes,
"Dear Emily and Farhad, my personal email address is first initial, last name@gmail, and in recent months, I've started to get a number of wrong emails. People asking me to babysit, order confirmations from online shopping, someone's high school transcripts.
"Apparently the senders have sent it to me by mistake, but I know email scams often try to get you to reply to messages like this. What's the etiquette in this situation? Should I try to find the actual recipient? Should I be informing the senders that they didn't reach their mark?
"Thanks for your advice,
A Good Email Citizen."
So Farhad, what should our listeners do?
Farhad: You know, my email address is first name, last name also, but I never get this. Apparently there are no other Farhad Manjoos. But I don't think he's obligated to do anything.
I mean I think if the message sounds serious or important and he can somehow sense that it's not a scam—which is harder and harder to do—it could be polite to try to respond and say, "I can't babysit tonight." But I don't think he has to, especially if he gets a lot of email and it's taking a lot of time to respond nicely to all these people. I don't think he's obligated to.
Emily: It is a little odd to get a lot of misdirected email, but I have to say this happened to me. A few years ago I sent several emails to a very good friend about surgery I had to have with graphic descriptions of the upcoming procedure. She never wrote back and I was a little hurt or I thought, "Did I gross her out?" And then finally, after the third email, this person wrote back and said, "I'm sorry about your medical problems, but I don't know you." She had a one‑letter difference in her name, so I was very grateful that she had written back to me and saved this friendship.
But I think if it's random business confirmations—and, you know, it could be phishing, so you have to be careful. The other time this comes up for me is that now that everyone's named Emily, a lot of people start automatically typing and they're trying to reach some other Emily and they just hit the first Emily thing and it comes to me. Then I always ... it's inexplicable, but it's from someone I know and I always write back. I say, "I think you meant this for another Emily."
Farhad: I guess that suggests a good solution which is, if he can figure out from—or she—can figure out from the email what the actual recipient's email address is, it might be polite to notify that person that you're getting a lot of their email and they should try to clarify to their friends what their address is in some way. But you can never really trust what you get over email from strangers, so it's hard to know.
Emily: Right, and as you established in a previous podcast, you don't even answer email from your nearest and dearest so I cannot expect you to be looking for other Farhad Manjoos out there and trying to get them their correct email.
Farhad: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is—and make sure you write this down carefully—DigitalManners@Slate.com.
Emily: You can also join our new Facebook page, where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to www.facebook.com/DigitalManners.
Farhad: And we'll talk to you next time on "Manners for the Digital Age".
Transcription by CastingWords.