Okay, let’s be honest here (says the man who writes a quasi-anonymous blog). Can we please have a show of hands of those who have ever mistakenly sent out an embarrassing e-mail? Oh, come now, we can do better than that. You there! Yes, you, the woman with the cool-looking glasses hiding behind her laptop screen eating that apple — I bet you have an electronic embarrassment in your past, don’t you? I thought so. Don’t worry, we’ll keep this just between us.
The fact is most of us have done something embarrassing on the computer whether we’re willing to admit it or not. Whether it was ruining someone’s surprise party, commenting on Aunt Betty’s excessive drinking, or bragging about a sexual escapade, a good majority of us have experienced that awful chill down the spine of realizing that you hit the SEND button without looking closely at the recipient(s). “Oopsy Daisy” doesn’t even begin to come close to expressing the humiliation that we feel when that happens. Usually it’s a gratuitous usage of both the “S” and “F” words, followed by either a literal or figurative fetal position posture that lasts for hours or days. Stepping out of your office into the general workplace after such an error can be an embarrassing and gut-wrenching experience, as is seeing your friend/neighbor/family member about whom you may have made an off-color comment. Sometimes one will overcompensate to make up for the gaffe only to get him/herself even further embarrassed.
“No, Mr. Jennings, you see, when I said you wouldn’t understand a contract revision if it hit you in the face, I literally meant the ones that I write. I mean, they’re terrible. I can’t even make sense of them!”
Yeah… as Rocky Squirrel would say, “that trick never works.”
What makes me think about all of this is an absolutely delicious controversy from earlier this week involving the political commentator Tucker Carlson and his quite colorful brother, Buckley. I’ll let the above article link explain the details of the inadvertent e-mail snafu, but suffice to say that not only did Brother Buckley make one of those terrible “reply-all” errors, but his use of vulgar, sexist, and misogynist language to describe a female is so far out-of-bounds that it is indefensible. However, one does have to give Brother Tucker some credit for family loyalty. He says that his brother’s comments were meant in “the nicest way” possible. Outstanding! We have a new standard for inflammatory language — we just have to say it nicely. I’m not even sure Ripley would believe that one.
I must do a full disclosure here and admit to my own foibles. While thankfully mine don’t come even close to Brother Buckley, I have made a doozy or two.
Probably my most embarrassing e-mail mistake was when I created an online photo gallery of a work event party in which we were celebrating the opening of an office in our new building. In what I thought was a truly devious and diabolical method of sharing the pictures, I created two albums of the same pictures — one for my co-workers and a second one for my friends. I bet you know where this is going, don’t you? Yep, I mistakenly sent the wrong link to my co-workers and they all got to see the “colorful” remarks I made about the function. Most of the comments were actually just silly, but in one particular picture I happened to mentioned how I thought a co-worker’s glasses were ugly. That was the caption everyone noticed, of course. My later apology to the poor person wearing said glasses was the most uncomfortable conversation I may have ever had.
Another brilliant move by your humble blogger was when I incorrectly sent an instant message to the wrong person. The intended person never got my message (Hi, H.), but the one who did receive it got to read about, well, himself. Somehow I managed to extricate myself from that one because what I actually wrote wasn’t that bad. But it was nonetheless not my most shining moment.
A sister of mine is only now communicating with me after many years of shunning because of information that I once shared about her with a second sister. Promises were made that I wouldn’t share certain dirt, and in fact I kept my mouth shut for a very long period of time. But when I thought the conditions of the promise had expired by certain circumstances having taken place, I did go ahead and share them with Sister #2. I was wrong. I should have checked and confirmed before breaking the confidence. As a result, Sister #1 quickly informed me that my breach was an act of betrayal. Only after many years of silence are we now taking baby steps at rapprochement. Probably my toughest lesson in hitting SEND.
Harry Truman made his own inadvertent communication indiscretion in an era way before e-mail, cell phone texts, or chat. Our 33rd president had a long habit of hand-writing letters or memos, putting them in a closed envelope in his drawer, and taking them back out 24-48 hours later and re-reading to see if he still felt the same. Most of the time he didn’t, and into the garbage went the missive. However, his most infamous moment occurred after a Washington Post arts critic panned the president’s daughter Margaret’s singing at an operatic recital. Our feisty president wrote a note to the critic afterwards and ended up sending it to him in the following day’s mail. Mr. Truman defended his daughter by promising to punch the critic in the nose if they ever met in the future. While initially embarrassed and mortified by his actions, the public ate it up and the President ended up getting political mileage out of the act. His advisors, however, kept a closer watch on his outgoing mail after that.
I don’t know much about the Brothers’ Carlson and their own level of chagrin and embarrassment. Today’s politics is all about electronic machismo with a general lack decorum and decency. This makes me assume that we won’t be witnessing much of a sincere mea culpa or apology to the victim of the awful e-mail. Issue a denial, go away for a few days, and then change the subject. Collectively we all tend to have a short memory now anyway.
But for us mere mortals who have to play by a more common set of rules — having to show up for work the following day, or going to Aunt Betty’s home for Thanksgiving next November, for example — we know we have to ultimately make amends and give a sincere apology.
As Hill Street’s Sgt. Esterhaus used to admonish,”Let’s Be Careful Out There!”
14 thoughts on “Care For Some Ketchup With That Crow?”
Almost lost a friend this way. At least a sort of friend. Back in the days before real email we had an internal system called TOSS that allowed you to send 3 lines of text to someone in our company. If you wanted to do a long rant, you got fast at filling in the name at the top and continuing the rant on a 2nd, 3rd or 4th message. One time I got so into it that I send a piece of the message to the person it was about. Had to do some back pedaling on that one but in the end, the person wasn’t really my friend anyway. Fortunately it wasn’t a family member who would torture me forever!
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A precursor to Twitter, it would appear!
I thought that when I wrote the message but you could only send them internally.
Back in 1986, I committed my first gaffe communicating online. Back then, I was a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia and all online traffic for us went through a super computer at the University of Illinois-Champaign. We used dumb terminals in computer labs on what amounted to a semi-closed network connecting various mid-west universities and any other college students in the US and abroad that could get onto the Illinois super computer network, not the full worldwide range Internet we have today. I was in a computer lab across campus conversing online with others on the campus. I had a close group of friends who consisted of five guys and one woman, Betsy. Betsy was smart – would go on to become a Professor of Statistics at a major university today – but was guy crazy – not for any of us, although we were each crazy about her at various times – and was not smart at relationships. On one particular day, she was sending us all notes online, all of us located at various places around campus, about some guy whe was dating, complaining as usual about a falling out or something. At the same time, I was typing messages to the other’s in the group and some others at different universities. While I was typing back my condolences about her treatment by her latest boyfriend, I was also typing the other guys. At some point, one of the guys asked me what she was saying, and I typed back something like, “well, she’s at it as usual, complaining about how this guy is treating her. You would think she would learn not to keep picking the same type…..” I sent it to her and then realized what I had done! Yikes!!!! I waited for the reply back, sweating bullets. She replied back, “Who are you talking about?” Not sure what I did, but I did manage to somehow convince her that I was talking about someone else. Whew!!! I’ve had some errant messages sent via email since, but the biggest problem today is that I have learned through painful experience, that when I assume a certain tone when sending an e-mail, others interpret a different tone and get offended easily, thinking that I am complaining when I’m not, or being abrupt, when I’m not. It’s interesting, and embarrassing, when this happens. I once kept sending e-mail to an employee in what I thought was a pleasant, reassuring tone, trying to solve her problem, and she kept getting angrier and angrier with each message, interpreting my e-mail quite differently than intended. I finally called her on the old telephone and talked her down. Love technology!!!
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I’m pretty sure Betsy is regular follower of this Blog. I eagerly await the recollections from her.
Yes, tone is definitely a problem also. Or sometimes not even responding, which is also taken as type of “tone.” A former boss of mine used to hate email replies that simply said, “Okay, thanks!” when he thought they might instead be something of substance. But others, on the other hand, look for that final acknowledgment. Without it, they see a negative tone often not intended. Sometimes I agree it is better to just pick up the phone!
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Yes tone misinterpretation in email and texts is definitely an issue and one I try to be aware of by inserting a smile just to be on the safe side.
I haven’t had any serious incidents of wrong-recipient messages, but one that comes to mind is a bit hilarious.
I often joke with my brother and send random messages like Then he would message back saying, or (as though I were looking into his house through a window or something).
So one day I was seriously in the mood for chips and messaged him, “I’m hungry and in the mood for chips, what are you going to do about that?” Well I got a message back from my client asking if they need to have chips on hand the next time I’m there. I was horrified! But when I explained that it was meant for my brother we all had a good laugh! Turns out it was a group message which went to my client, his spouse and my brother ^_^
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That’s FUNNY. Good that your clients had a sense of humor. Texts that include others make me nervous. Unlike an e-mail were you can see everyone listed, I don’t always see who else is receiving the same text, nor my possible reply.
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That was exactly the problem. The week before I sent a group text to all 3, a picture of my daughter. Client’s spouse kept requesting new pics so as I was sending I added my brother as well. My brother’s name was listed first, but the others were after and I didn’t seem them as I was outside at night walking the dog. I should have deleted that thread. Lesson learned!
WordPress is weird… Just realized is deleted some of the quotes (sample texts) I mentioned I sent to my brother.
The “ohno-second” is a variable unit of time. It has been used to describe the lag between knowing that you’ve just hit your thumb with a hammer and the actual pain setting in. It’s since been expanded to include that special time between sending a reply to a single recipient on an email discussion and realizing you’d actually selected “reply all”.
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Absolutely! And THEN the self-loathing begins. 😉
This incident couldn’t have happened to a more deserving duo. Actually, until the news I had not heard of Buckley (Tucker and Buckley? Seriously?). But Tucker should. E laughed out of the Pundit Club. What a puts.
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I must admit I hadn’t heard of Buckley either (named after William Buckley, perhaps?). The dynamic duo, it would appear.
This is why you should never write an email response when you’re tired/upset/slightly drunk. Once immortalised in an email thread, a snafu can never be undone…. 🙂
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