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5 Ways Email Can Completely Ruin Your Life

We're hooked on email. And it's driving us batshit crazy.

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I wonder if email is a contributor to the growing trend of incivility in our culture. Just as the rapid trading made possible with desktop computers brought a tsunami of short-term thinking and disrespect for human values into the financial industry, email may be eroding our sensitivity to the give and take of human interaction. Many emails don’t even contain the courtesy of a greeting, a simple hello. They burst on us unawares, barking out demands or questions without so much as a please or thank you.

Often simply picking up the phone or walking into the next office can save us a world of email confusion and aggression. And yet we shy away from the more human forms of communication, hiding behind our email and throwing bombs from the safety of our cubicle. Until we’ve ruined a relationship or poisoned our job.

5. The Email Devil

If you spend too much of your time emailing, eventually you will encounter a malevolent being known as the “Email Devil. This invisible creature lurks inside your inbox causing you to Cc the wrong party, forward an embarrassing personal email to your boss and reply to your entire address list when you meant to answer one person. The Email Devil makes requests sounds like rude demands and causes jokes to come off as offensive. These screw-ups can be embarrassing, and they can also get you into legal trouble. Lawsuits have resulted from ill-considered jokes and offensive comments written in emails.

Email can seem like such a private and cozy form of communication -- but it isn’t. Have you ever forwarded a ridiculous or untoward email meant for your private viewing? Then you can bet someone has done it to you. Even when you’re emailing the correct party, an unintended audience may be viewing your email. Basically, your employer can legally monitor your email as long as somewhere a written policy exists. And emails you send and receive while at work – even those you delete -- are often stored on a company server for as long as 30 days.

You really should have a separate email account for personal stuff, and remember that work emails should be written as if they will be broadcast to the universe. Any time you need to discuss something confidential, choose the in-person or phone meeting over email.

So what do we do?

Breaking the email chains that bind us is a daunting challenge. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know we have to talk more openly about the problem and not let ourselves fall into a that's-just-the-way-it-is trap. So let's experiment. Let's not start our day automatically with email. Let's not be afraid to tell the sender of an email, "I'll respond to this tomorrow" if it comes after business hours. Let's unsubscribe from newsletters we don't read, and let's not give our email address to the store clerk when we make a purchase. Let's avoid sending abrupt messages without greetings or courtesies -- even to co-workers we deal with frequently. When we go on vacation, let's tell people firmly that we will not be dealing with email. And let's mean it.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

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