Weed Out Unwanted Email

My email box looks like a garden overgrown with weeds. Despite vigilant efforts to throw the cyber-equivalent of Round-Up on those unwanted subscriptions to newsletters about construction equipment, healthcare quality assurance, and chain store retail news I never signed up for, the wily infiltrators keep on coming. But those aren’t even the worst offenders. The email weeds most firmly rooted in my box — and I suspect yours as well — are the ones on which we are copied needlessly.

So in the interest in saving us all from unwanted email, I have a proposal for Microsoft’s Outlook and Google’s Gmail. Let’s replace the “cc” and “bcc” with something really useful, especially since cc is so last century.

For those under the age of 45 who might be too shy to ask, in the days long ago before PCs, before copiers were available to folks outside of big offices, and before the Internet, if you wanted to make a copy of a document you put a piece of blue or black carbon paper between two pieces of stationery, rolled the short stack into the typewriter, and pounded away. The carbon-coated paper would make a “carbon copy” of whatever you typed, mistakes and all.

With paper carbons, you could make just a few copies at a time. With modern email, we can deliver copies to dozens of people at a time. And we certainly do. The number one reason we do this — to cover our behinds. For example, let’s say you are closing down a period of comment on a document, even though some of your team didn’t respond to your email asking for comments before the deadline. What do you do? CC everyone, including your boss and your boss’ boss, to make sure they know. In another case, someone on the team might not be pulling their weight. You copy the world so everyone knows it was this other person — and not you — who was slacking. You might even want to point a finger, but decide that aiming a digit at the entire team is a whole lot more comfortable than confronting the individual.

Occasionally, we cc to let folks have some information that they might possibly need at some distant point in the far-away future. For instance, I might be getting ready to start a new project; so I copy you on every single email (whether you need to know or not) in the hope that you somehow will be up to speed if or when you’re needed. When these pesky intruders land in our inbox, along with the unwanted subscriptions and the truly valuable email, we don’t really know why they are there. If we knew, we could delete…er, I mean, respond to them immediately.

So let’s imagine that if, instead of a blanket cc, we had a “cfyi” designation for “copy for your information” or a “cma” (covering my you-know). Wouldn’t we then be able to direct our cyber weed killer more effectively? Better yet, if we had to use one of these designations, we might deter promiscuous copying.

Microsoft and Gmail, are you listening?

By the way: I did think of a third designation — a “cfa” for “copy for action.” But then I realized that we would probably use this all the time. Just to cma.

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