One of the more irritating aspects of the change of calendar years is the increase in meaningless messages that land in one’s inbox. I love the internet and the world wide web, but that love is severely strained when I have to wade through gratuitous messages wishing “All” a happy new year. It’s a palpable sign of the Age of the Content-free Communications.
Let me be very specific about my complaint. I am not complaining about one of my dear friends or a family member sending me an email message addressed specifically to me with “Dear Atanu, etc” wishing me a happy new year and sending me an indication that I matter to him or her. Nor am I complaining about an email that someone sends me for some work related reason and ends with the “Have a happy new year!” What I am complaining about is the email which just says “Happy New Year” and is sent to half a gazillion people — worse if that message’s recipients emails are also included and has some multimedia song and dance to boot. That sort of message sends the message that “I am smart enough to send this email but I am certainly not clever enough to realize that I am merely spamming you.”
So here’s my advice to “All” — just sit on your hands when you get the urge to send out gratuitous messages. If you really care about someone, write him or her a personal email expressing your appreciation and your best wishes. If it so happens that you are writing an email to someone as a matter of course — such as in business communications — then it is fine to end it with new year wishes.
An easy test of a content-free gratuitous email is this: ask yourself, that if you were to remove the greetings part of it, would the email still mean anything to the recipient? If the answer is no, then it is best not to send that email. By all means send out an end of the year email telling me or even half the town of something that is of significance to you or to me. Tell me how you did in your personal or professional life. Inform me of your achievements, failures, hopes and dreams. Tell me something that I did not know. Don’t tell me what I already know: that you wish me well for the coming year. The only people who I want to hear from are those that matter to me. My enemies certainly don’t wish me well, and my friends do wish me well. So just emailing me to tell me “Happy New Year” is meaningless at best. The whole point about communication is that it should have surprise value. It should convey something that I did not already know or could not guess at. Stating the plainly obvious means that you did not recognize it to be so. It is embarrassing.
I am writing this one with the hope that it will raise the etiquette level in our internet lives. Be considerate. The web has been around for a few years and we should learn by now that spamming people (however well intentioned) is not a good thing. I say this as the chief economist (and therefore the chief curmudgeon) of Netcore.
With that rant, let me close by expressing my best wishes to you and yours for a wonderful New Year 2008.