An Open Letter To The People Who Hit ‘Reply All’


Oh, John and Holly. Holly and John. I know nothing about you. I don’t even know if you know each other, or if you are as much of strangers tethered by circumstance as I am to each of you. Perhaps the only point of intersection in our lives is Amanda, our sole mutual friend — the same girl whose words sealed our fates together in the first place.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The three of us, and 18 others, were all recipients of the same email. Presumably, you both live near enough to me to have been included, because Amanda wanted to let us know that she’d be visiting our city. She wanted to know if any of us were busy that particular weekend, and whether we’d care to meet up. That’s where the correspondence should have ended. But it didn’t end there. And I blame you, John and Holly — and all the Johns and Hollys of the world, and all of you would-be wasters of my digital flavor — because, while this could have remained a simple, contained message from one individual friend, you had the gall to entrap me into an involuntary dialogue.

Do you know the difference between the ‘reply’ and ‘reply all’ buttons? Is it possible that it could have been an honest mistake? If you don’t know, please take a moment to ruminate over the linguistic implications of the word ‘all.’ Do you know everyone receiving this message, John? Do you think that Holly, or me, or any of the other 18 have a particular interest in whether or not you are playing tennis on Saturday morning? I am trying my best not to be sarcastic. I am really wondering. Did you believe this information bore special consequence to all of us? Were you, for example, attempting to bookmark Amanda publicly for a time that is specifically not Saturday morning? Is that why you did it? And Holly — when you mentioned that you had an event on Friday, but would keep Amanda updated — were you deliberate in your announcement to all of us? Were you somehow allowing the rest of us (including even John, Friday evening not being Saturday morning) to proceed with a Hollyless evening? Did either or both of you conceive of this as a group message that implicitly begged for a group outing?

You see, Holly and John, I did not read it that way. I do not believe that Amanda intended to haphazardly dump all of the people she knows in one city into a single outing simply in order to check us all off of a list. I daresay that Amanda has more grace than that. You wouldn’t put cheetos in a blender with chocolate milk, would you? I believe that Amanda regarded a group email as a convenient method by which to inform us of her travel plans. Her underlying assumption, I would guess, mirrored mine — that if you happened to be available and willing to meet, you would take the initiative to contact her privately to propose something. Holly, John, I am beginning to wonder if this was the first group message that you’d ever been included in.

Is clicking the ‘reply all’ button a typical instinct of yours? Was it a decision that preceded a considerable amount of judgment?

And did you think at all, John and Holly, of we other 18 recipients of Amanda’s email? Did you wonder about us? Do you know any of us? Did you even peek at our names? Did you wonder, John, if any of us perhaps pass our Saturday mornings with tennis, too? And Holly, did you pause to guess whether any of us might also, by some serendipitous connection, attend that very same Friday event?

And did you imagine your messages reaching us? Did you picture us reading them? I suspect you did not, John and Holly. I suspect you typed these quickly, during your lunch hour, perhaps, and thought not another thing about it. There is a chance, I gather, that you don’t even know that you hit ‘reply all,’ and have proceeded since then under the false assumption that your messages were only read by Amanda. But they weren’t. They were read by all of us. I should know. I was part of the us. They were read by me.

Maybe I am being unfair, John and Holly. You didn’t think that far ahead, did you? How could you have? You didn’t scroll down the list of e-mail addresses and fix your eyes on mine, two-thirds the way down, no more creative than my first and last name with a dot in the middle. I use Gmail, like everyone else does. I can’t expect you to wonder about me, and I can’t expect you to consider my technically minor inconvenience in opening my email account only to find a message from you, a person I’ve never met, addressing a girl who has never been me.

And I can’t admit, or expect you to understand, the way I sit up in my office chair when I see a one in parentheses at the top of my inbox. Are you like that, too, John and Holly? Have you noticed the way that either or both of you, and maybe even Amanda and the other 18 of us, feel so considered and wanted and present when there are bold lines at the top of the page, which can only indicate unread messages? And have you felt like you are sinking, when they turn out to be from Living Social, or Amazon, or Career Builder from back when you were job hunting? And does it embarrass you? Does it make you as sad as it makes me, John and Holly?

Because your names are not Groupon, or Modcloth, or eBay, or Twitter, or Orbitz. You have human names. So, can you imagine how much worse it is to scan an inbox and rule out a marketing mailing list, only to discover that you are witnessing a conversation that never had a thing to do with you? And are you strangers, John and Holly, to the feeling afterward of having been interrupted in your own tiny corner of the internet, just to find that the excitement of being contacted personally was a false alarm? Do you know what it is like to click all day on different tabs to find nothing, and no one? Would you laugh, John and Holly, at the state in which your actions left my hopes?

I hope you would, John and Holly. I hope you would mock me for being so rigid and irritable so as to feel jilted by an unintended email. I hope you would cackle, and tell me it is my fault for allowing my emotions to be so dramatically manipulated by my computer screen. I hope you would laugh about it, assert the fact that the ‘reply all’ button deserves no intellectual consideration, and find a way to fill up your life with evening events and tennis games. Because if you did feel this way, John and Holly, it would make me feel better about blaming you. It would put you in the wrong. The problem wouldn’t be me — it wouldn’t be the fact that I’ve opened my heart to the internet, that I’ve replaced speech with typing, or that I have only a few friends that I see in person. The problem wouldn’t be that I wade around my inbox, or my Facebook profile, or my Twitter feed, waiting for something to happen. The problem wouldn’t be that the jump I feel in getting an email is a feeling I don’t get from much else. And the problem wouldn’t be my disappointment stemming from an inability to brush off the dozens of messages that mean even less than nothing at all.

The problem would be you. It would be you, John and Holly. You did this. You crept into my life, you were reckless with your email features, and you trampled all over the points of etiquette that all of us ought to know by now. The problem would be that you annoyed me. And that would be the only reason, John and Holly, that you were ever anything more than a thing that I had to delete.

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