Emailing Tips for Our Parents

Email from your beloved parent, or The Davinci Code? Which is easier to decipher?

I ask, because while many of us grew up with computers, the same can't be said for our good ol' moms and dads.

They were halfway through life, got a good stride going.... Then the personal computer came along. And the Internet. And e-mail. And suddenly, Life threw a big honking wrench into their smoothly-running machinery.

There was all this new stuff to learn. Stuff that you couldn't touch, or hold-- but only existed on a glowing screen. And while some folks take to it seamlessly, an equal number have some... creative interpretations of how it all works... until they get up to speed.

So I thought I'd pull together a few helpful tips of common email issues that result from the 'rents hitting the Information Highway. Let's remove the roadblocks and get 'em back on the path, shall we? And here's wishing them happy, safe driving.

  • The Subject field should contain a few words summarizing your message-- not an excerpt from War and Peace. My friend Debbie's mom's grand entrance into the world of e-mail involved a detailed multi-paragraph message sent entirely in the Subject line. It was remarkable how much Deb's mom crammed in there. In fact, I believe Debbie may still be scrolling at this moment.
  • The Subject Field is meant to be descriptive and probably shouldn't require a team of Navajo Code Talkers or that curly-haired kid from Numb3rs to figure it out. In a variation of the issue above, my dad goes the entire other way with his Subject lines. He seems absolutely terrified he'll run out of characters in the Subject box-- so he abbreviates things. Things that have no abbreviations suddenly have unique and exciting new acronyms. I'll get a message that says "R L ," for instance. "R L ? What the heck's 'R L '?" And then I'll open the message to discover that the Pop has just gone to Red Lobster. Email from Dad may require an extra cup of coffee.
  • Writing in all caps really is considered shouting. And no, it isn't easier to read. It isn't.... No, it really isn't. No... Please stop. The message comes through looking like a 1940s telegram but with punctuation. I've heard all sorts of reasons new users to email composition will say caps are better. They're "larger." They're "easier to read." When in fact, the real answer is, "They're readily available, because I can't figure out how to turn the caps lock off."
  • No, you haven't attached the photo. Yes, I know you think you did. But you didn't. Attaching a photo is a multiple-step process. Any missed step means the photo is not attached. And while I know parents like to retain their sense of authority with their kids, when the adult child says you didn't attach the image, insisting you did and getting irritated really won't make the attachment suddenly appear. Remember, it's perfectly okay to have a learning curve-- no parents lose their 'Rent Cred simply because they're still learning Attachments.
  • 2 GIG files will probably not make it into your recipient's Inbox. They will, however, clog up your email server for, possibly, the next twenty years. Or until technology catches up with you. Whichever comes first.
  • SPAM filters can't read your mind. Spam filters are triggered by keywords, and they don't so much take into account context. So if you are a "Subject Abbreviator" and you want to tell a story about your friend Ed Delaney, writing "E D" in the subject line is likely to get filtered out for SPAM. Writing "White Breasts" in the Subject because you had nice white meat roast chicken for lunch is also likely to be filtered. And no amount of cute miniature donkeys at the local petting zoo on a steamy July day require a Subject field to read "Me, Petting These Hot Little Asses." Just sayin'.
  • The shorthand you learned in secretarial school in 1962 isn't a nifty new form of text messaging. A few moms I know who were killer with the shorthand years ago, seem to want to transition it to the Web. This would be fine if they were only writing to other moms who were killer with shorthand. But most of us don't know that "usta" is "understand" and not some side table from IKEA. And "uavob" is "unavailable" and not the name of an alien from Battlestar Galactica. It's good to know your audience.
  • Hitting "Send" multiple times does not make the computer hurry up. It just makes more messages. I know email is exciting, and sometimes the speed of the computer seems inversely proportional to your desire to see your email winging its way to your loved ones. But the Send button is not a snare drum. It doesn't need to be hit rhythmically to work effectively. Just the once is usually good enough.
Do you folks have any to add to this list? Send 'em along! But, um, if you do? Please do it in a comment, okay? And not in the form of 1 GIG attachment. My email server and I will thank you. :)



Shirley said...

The DaVinci Code would be easier. My mom has never sent an email. She has a computer. I'm not sure she knows how to run the internet either.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shirley- Does she use her computer for other activities then? Like finances or something? Or is it an expensive paperweight, like so many computers become? :)

Anonymous said...

My dad's e-mails are more colourful than a birthday party. Every paragraph is a different colour - from the subtle blue to flashy pink ! He want's so make sure I read everything !

And when for example he has 5 stories to tell which are unrelated to one another, he'll send 5 different messages - and for me that's a lot of extra clicks !

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- I'm chuckling here because what you describe is so vivid and REALISTIC. I've seen variations of this, using fonts, or excess of bold. I love that your emails from him are separated by topic, too. He's just trying to ensure you don't miss anything! :)

Da Old Man said...

Both of my parents fought technology and refused to enter the computer age. However, my Spawn has more than made up for it and documents and shares everything.
I'll get a picture of her buying an apple, so when she calls me I'll have a visual, on the off chance I've never seen an apple.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Ah, YES! The photo documentation of everything. My dad is fond of that one. It's good they're keeping us looped in with everything, up-to-the-minute. :)

Jay said...

How about teaching them to edit when returning emails? I've received some with reams and reams of previous emails tagging along for the ride. LOL!

MIL used to do the opposite of the caps lock thing. She would write all in lower case and with no punctuation. And she'd never go back and correct mis-spellings either. Yep, her emails were kinda hard to read, but I miss her.

Jane said...

My mom uses it for pictures, video, and homework. Not email or internet though until now. Oh, yes she just reminded me spider solitaire. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Jay- Oh yes! I know a few family friends who send forwarded forwarded forwarded forwards that go for miles and miles.

Maybe your mother in law was just trying out an "ee cummings" style? :)

Jane- Sounds like she's found some of the highlights of computing, then! :)

Shieldmaiden96 said...

My mom is afraid of the Internets. She used to run a 'flex card' reader, that's the last time she had her hands on anything remotely computer-related. The computer took up the whole room. But she's faithful about notiftying me of every sinister threat lurking at gas stations and mall parking lots, courtesy of her friends who do have computers and print the stories for the benefit of the un-initiated. She gets the Snopes smackdown manually.

Jenn Thorson said...

Shieldmaiden- Heh, she's lookin' out for you even without having the computer herself... no daughter of hers is going to be kidnapped in a mall parking lot by a hook-handed man, or have her kidneys stolen! :)

chyna said...

I was going to mention the forward thing. My dad has yet to figure that one out yet too. Or you can look at the forward line before you send it on to others. I can not tell you how many messages I've got from him that my brother sent him. Umm, don't you think that perhaps db sent it to me the same time he sent it to you? sigh

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- He just wants to make sure you didn't miss anything-- or, er, mmm, that your brother isn't neglecting you. Don't you feel special? :)

chyna said...

I actually feel annoyed. My dad's choices of things to forward on is sketchy at best.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Are you saying you're JEALOUS because the emails you receive aren't, er, as colorful as the ones mentioned above? :)

Melanie said...

LOL! Parents and computers! Scary stuff. My folks have had a computer for almost ten years and my dad STILL does not know how to send an e-mail. This is the man who makes his pocket money betting on horses (have you ever seen a racing form? I can't make heads or tails of it!) and he has only enough computer skills to allow him to place his bets and even then he sometimes needs mom's help. No emails from him.

As for mom, I think she's petrified of the subject line. Unless it's a forward there's never anything in her subject line.

Melanie said...

Oh, I forgot to add one of life's little ironies. I taught my children to use the computer when they were small enough to sit on my knee. Now, I have become a 'parent with an outdated computer.' "Geez Mom, don't you have that on your computer." "Well all you have to do it click there and........."

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- It's funny how that happens-- perfectly brilliant people who seem unable to refill a stapler, or send an email.

Of course, me, I am terrified of unhooking anything on the back of my TV. It got hooked together by what I see as pure luck. My motto is, "Don't mess."

Sounds like your mom is suffering from Subjascribaphobia. Fear of typing in the Subject field affects more people each year than we currently know. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- (re: your PS)- Yes, I guess we're forever doomed to be out-computed by the next generation, aren't we? :)

Teaches us a good lesson, I suppose-- none of us should get too smug! :)