The other day, the Dean Dad remarked on one of the quirks of academic technology:
Last week I saw another iteration of something I still don’t really understand. People who are perfectly civil in person are often capable of firing off incredibly nasty and hateful emails. Sometimes they’ll do that with cc’s all the way up the chain, as a way of spreading the manure over the most ground with the least effort. Yet, when confronted, they’re surprised that anybody would take offense, and they revert to their perfectly civil selves.
It is, indeed, mystifying, and seems to be more common in academia than out. It’s especially puzzling coming from a class of people who spend their entire careers finely parsing every word in texts to wring out the last drops of meaning– you’d think they would know to be careful with word choice.
Of course, there’s another, even more fundamental failing of academics interacting with email: the utter failure to grasp the difference between “Reply” and “Reply to All.” My inbox is constantly being filled up with replies that are sent to the entire faculty for no good reason.
And, of course, when you combine this tendency with the tendency toward random hostility, hilarity ensues. Only, you know, not in a funny way.
I’ve occasionally suggested that we ought to have the ability to vote colleagues off Email Island– the rest of the faculty should be able to suspend the all-faculty email privileges of people who hit “Reply to All” too often, or who send weirdly combative email to the entire college. They would still be able to email the entire faculty, but they would need to type in all the names individually.
Some sharp programmer needs to get to work on this system. I think it’s an idea whose time has come.