Tuesday, May 22, 2007

No Subject Line

One of my silly pet peeves is receiving e-mails that have no subject line. (If you happen to be someone who has sent me one of those e-mails than I apologize for publicly, yet annonymously railing against you. If you are someone who thinks it would now be funny to send me a bunch of e-mails without a subject line, please refrain. :-) ) I blame a former boss for this annoyance - he also asked that e-mails be sent with a short, yet informative subject line. In reality, though, this blame is misplaced. The truth is that I've grown to depend on those (hopefully few) words to tell me what is contained inside. Those words help me prioritize, sort, and recall. I need them. Without them, my whole system of preference and organization crumbles. With them, I can manage expectations, create shortcuts and generally anticipate events. They give me a preview and create a passageway for avoidance. They are, in short, a relied upon convenience.

In a lot of ways, I think it would be nice if life came with subject lines. Just imagine. I think they would read something like this:

- A Good Day
- Temper Lost
- Sorrow to Avoid
- Disappointment in Friends
- Promises Ahead
- Next Steps

Think how easy life would be to handle if we knew what each day contained. If we could anticipate the story before experiencing it. We could organize, prioritize, sort and recall. We could know the content before knowing the context.

The thing about e-mail subject lines is that they create the wrong impression. Sometimes we don't read what the e-mail contains because we think we already know what's inside. Or maybe we don't read the whole e-mail, once our initial hunch is seemingly verified. We ignore because we're ignorant of what's important. We respond based on perception. We act before understanding.

We'd probably do the same if every day came with its own subject line. We'd probably avoid the days like "Disappointment in Friends" assuming it meant that we would be disappointed, not that there was something we could do to prevent another's discouragement. We'd focus on the e-mails that said "A Good Day" not realizing that its often in the bad days that we learn the most. We wouldn't be burden by life's unexpectancies, but we wouldn't be blessed by life's surprises. In trying to manage life, we'd quelch it.

I still prefer e-mails with subject lines. But I'm glad that life comes without.

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No Subject Line