Today, your diarist is going to invoke something called the “Universal Pundit’s Prerogative” (a.k.a. U.P.P.). Allow me to explain this useful tool.
When something occurs once in a columnist’s life, it isn’t an anecdote, but an embryonic trend that only the columnist has had the foresight to see and document.
When something occurs twice in a columnist’s life, it isn’t mere coincidence, but a confirmation of a burgeoning trend in the Zeitgeist that only the columnist spotted and had the vision to predict.
And finally, when something happens three times in a columnist’s life, it isn’t just a statistical anomaly, but a national movement of unprecedented proportions caused, in part, by the columnist writing about it in the first place.
So what is my point here, you ask?
In the past year, three of my friends have gotten divorced. They’ve left their wives, husbands and children for so-called “greener pastures”-which, in my observation, usually means a one-bedroom walk-up somewhere in the East 90’s.
Now admittedly, among sophisticated New Yorkers, this may not seem like a large figure. What intrigues me, however, isn’t the number of breakups, but how the news was broken. In all three cases, the announcement came via … e-mail.
That’s right. Three times during the past year, I’ve found variations on the following announcement in my in-box, nestled among the usual daily avalanche of discount Viagra ads, mortgage-refinancing schemes, and invitations to view “barely legal teenage Lolitas having sex with barnyard animals”:
CHANGE OF ADDRESS: Hi, everyone. Sorry I’ve been out of touch. I’ll bring you up to date later, but I’ve split from Chris and Monty Jr. All for the best. My office number remains the same. Steven.
Three people. According to the U.P.P. guidelines, we’re obviously dealing with a national trend of epidemic proportions.
And it’s time that somebody-namely, your diarist-drew up some rules of contemporary e-mail etiquette.
1) Appropriate subjects. There’s no sense fighting the tide: These days, e-mail is appropriate for just about all business correspondence-from hiring, to firing, to telling the Securities and Exchange Commission that you’re restating earnings. In terms of social correspondence, it’s the perfect way to reveal an intimacy to a friend or loved one that you simply don’t have the courage to announce in person-i.e., that you’ve joined the Republican Party. The key consideration here is what kind of relationship you want with these people after you hit “send.” Thus, it’s O.K. to inform not only the immediate world via e-mail that you’re getting a divorce, but also your spouse.
2) Drop the cute names. Back in the days when Global Crossing still had a future, it might have been funny to be known as InsideTrader@MerrillLynch.com. But today they’re like vanity license plates, and calling yourself CreativeGenius@Disney.com pretty much indicates you are neither creative nor a genius. Likewise, Hunk_Of_Burning_Love
@Enron.com is not appropriate for serious business correspondence. (If you’re sending out résumés, perhaps you should consider Hunk_Of_Burning_Love@Greenpeace.org.) Either way, be simple. Be dignified. Err on the side of formality, as in MarthaS@AllenwoodCorrectionalFacility.gov.
3) Hide those carbon-copy lists. For years now, certain power-obsessed individuals in Washington, New York and Los Angeles have been sending out mass mailings and copying all the famous people they know. The main purpose, of course, is to show the world how many famous people you know. My advice is to avoid this practice. First, because all those famous people generally will react by wondering, “Who is this jackass trying to impress?” Second, because mass-mailers are now culling these lists for e-mail addresses, and those famous people will have you to thank for all those invitations to either a) enlarge their penises by three to five inches by Christmas, or b) view barely legal teenage Lolitas having sex with barnyard animals.
With this in mind, use the blind carbon-copy function, unless you’re inviting a specific group of people to a meeting, as in:
To: FatAlGore; ThinAlGore; AlphaAlGore; InternetAlGore; OutsiderAlGore; EnvironmentalistAlGore
Re: If any of you gentlemen have a clue as to exactly what persona I should use for the 2004 Presidential elections, please let me know. Al.
4) Have fun with emoticons. Like a 12-year-old girl dotting the I’s in her mash notes with hearts or smiley faces, these punctuation-based icons were originally used by the vocabulary-challenged to indicate joy (:-), sorrow (:-( or interest in barely legal teenage Lolitas having sex with barnyard animals (;-). But in our new post–Ken Starr, post–Henry Blodget era-when we’ve come to realize that all e-mail is forever-emoticons have taken on a far more important function: confounding your enemies and confusing the feds.
Consider this simple communication: If we pound the crap out of Iraq, maybe no one will notice that the economy is going to hell. Seems pretty clear-cut, right? Not just a smoking gun, but a smoking Abrams tank. Now consider the same message with a handy little emoticon: If we pound the crap out of Iraq, maybe no one will notice that the economy is going to hell (:-) . KRove@WhiteHouse.gov.
You see? This changes everything, and the entire meaning of the message is up for grabs. Here are some other examples:
Dear constituent: Senator Clinton regrets that she
is unable to articulate a co-herent or quotable vision for U.S. policy towards Iraq, as she is running for President in the year 2008 (:-) .
Dear Martha: Sell the stock (:-) . The drug patent is in the toilet (:-) . Just kidding (:-) . Sam.
Dear Dubya: I’m so sorry I’ve offended you (:-( . Instead of sending weapons inspectors to check out my palaces, why not come yourself? (:-) . As they say in Texas, and Baghdad, “Y’all can leave the troops now, y’hear?” Your friend (:-) , Saddam. P.S.: Can you remind Vice President
Cheney to send me the Internet address for the teenage Lolitas again?
5) Be sincere. As you can see, e-mail today is a correct, socially acceptable form of correspondence, from a pithy next-morning post-dinner-party thank-you note to threats of global worldwide biological terrorism. Keep it short, come to the point quickly, and-as is the case with all successful correspondence-be sincere. For example:
To: Howell Raines, Executive Editor, The New York Times.
Dear Howell: I loved your recent 2,000-word front-page article documenting the travails of Britney Spears’ career.
Keep up the good work.
Leonard Downie Jr., Executive Editor, The Washington Post.
7) Think before you hit send. Especially if you’re sending a divorce announcement, or an e-mail criticizing the editor of The Times . (:-).