What's In Your Inbox?

Email: Is it a blessing, or is it a curse?

It can be a wonderful time saver, but it can also be a big time-eating monster.

If used incorrectly, it can even get you in a lot of trouble.

The problem with email is that it has made it far too easy for people who have way too much time on their hands to share their spare time with those who don’t have enough hours in the day.

Am I the only one with friends and acquaintances, and even people I barely know, who appear to have little else to do but forward an endless array of emails to everyone they know?

The emails may or may not have relevance in anyone’s life, but it’s just so easy for people to hit “send” or “forward” to a distribution list that some people can’t resist it.

Most of the time people don’t mean any harm; they think they are helping to keep their friends informed, or entertained.

However, a great deal of what is forwarded is inaccurate or misleading information. People don’t always stop to check that before redirecting it to unsuspecting recipients.

Do you get those emails that start in all capital red letters with URGENT! THIS IS A MUST-READ! or YOU MUST FORWARD THIS ON…? I mean, there are only so many urgent things that one person can handle in a day.

I used to try and read every email I’d get, just to make sure it wasn’t something important. But I was finding that 90 percent of them were irrelevant.

Now I breeze through my inbox hitting “delete” at a high rate of fire and feel pretty certain I’m not missing out on anything truly important.

Besides, if something is that important, people who know me will call me or come see me or we’ll meet for breakfast and talk about it.

I remember one time when I went away on vacation for a couple weeks and had 300 or more emails upon returning, even though I had my “out of office” message on, which I mistakenly thought deflected incoming emails.

I tried to catch up but new emails were coming in faster than I could keep up with. So, in frustration, I highlighted them all and hit “delete.”

It was a liberating experience. It was like I had finally conquered the machine. But it was a short-lived victory because within two or three days the inbox was filled up again.

Machines rule.

Another problem with email is that it lacks the advantages of facial expressions, body language, eye contact and all the other human touches that eyeball-to-eyeball communication provides.

Sometimes the message can get lost or misconstrued because of it.

I remember once I made an off-hand comment in an email, purely in jest, about police and doughnuts, and somehow the police chief saw it. He wasn’t a happy camper and he let me know it; thereafter, I kept my jokes to myself.

Of course you can put happy faces (☺) or LOL on passages you mean to be in jest, but that doesn’t always ensure that your words won’t offend someone anyway; my policy -- if I don’t have something nice to say, say nothing at all.

Oh, and never, ever under any circumstances should you respond to an email while in an agitated state of mind. Invariably, you end up writing something you later regret.

I am in an organization that has members all over the globe, and all it takes is for one or two loose cannons to write something that someone else doesn’t agree with. What follows can often be, shall we say, unsavory.

I tend to take the high road and stay out of it. I’ve learned from hard experience that stepping into one of those email threads will only lead to trouble…rule of thumb, when in doubt, delete and claim you never got the email. That’s sort of like “plausible deniability.”

I guess email is only as good as the user. If someone is going to be the south end of a north-bound horse on email, odds are they have those tendencies in person, too. Although I’ve seen otherwise kind and gentle people turn into Genghis Khan via email.

So, in the course of your day today, dear reader, be cautious, be courteous and above all, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.