Emotional Burden of Being on a List

When you teach, you hand out business cards. You also hand them out at events, meetings, and during business introductions. So it’s not surprising when people who have your card add you to their mailing list. Even when you didn’t ask for them to start sending you their newsletter, jokes, prayer requests or chain letters, they believe that a business card is a permission slip.

This poor woman has no legs.

This poor woman has no legs.

Getting away seems easy. Most mass-mailings have an unsubscribe button. I use it frequently. But “unsubscribe” is not an anonymous as I’d wished. Once I’d unsubscribed, I’d get an email that said something like, “you indicated you wanted this mail, so I’m confused why you are unsubscribing.” A long time ago, a wise boss said that grumpy letter writers rarely could be turned into pen pals. So I don’t answer.

And then the replies get personal. From mild annoyance to downright hostile, people put me back on their lists, send me emails wanting to know if I’m angry with them, and explaining that jokes, prayer requests and chain letters can “brighten my day.”

Alas, they do not brighten my day. I’ve seen the jokes on Facebook (a dozen times), find it difficult to send heartfelt prayers for people I don’t know and whose ailment is dire, but unspecified. (I’m not asking). Chain letters are not worth thinking about, much less answering. Even the needy, “I want you to know how much I care about you, so now you have to care about me” kind, which ask me to send the letter to six of my friends as well as return it to the sender. So they can use the addresses of my friends? I think not.

spamGetting out of these lists is next to impossible. Last week, almost 1,000 of them came through my inbox. It’s hard to disconnect, I don’t want to hurt people, but it finally became clear: this isn’t about hurting someone’s feelings. This is about someone wanting to guilt me into staying on their marketing list.

There are a lot of connections I value. Personal emails, business connections, and the blogs I subscribe to are all valuable to me. Un-asked for mail deserves consideration, but after I’ve considered it, it would be kind if the sender accepted my decision. No, even in the marketing world, still means No.

Quinn McDonald is working on not feeling guilty for weeding out her inbox. She does wish people would check Snopes.com before they believe everything they read.

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29 responses to “Emotional Burden of Being on a List

  1. Then there’s always Don Knuth’s approach. He’s one of the superstars in the computer industry, and the author of the multi-volume “Art of Computer Programming”. He does not do email at all. In his words: “Email is good for people who need to stay on top of things. I’m more interested in getting to the bottom of things.”

  2. dancinghairwoman

    So try this…explain that you have so much mail that in order to really give the personal attention required you have little time for other “fun” emails. Then when they don’t pay attention, do it Pete’s way. Actually if they don’t listen Marilyn has the right of it. They probably aren’t potential customers anyway; too wrapped up in their own little world of spam.

  3. I absolutely agree . . . there’s something about having a real life as opposed to a virtual life as well. If I have a need for prayer, I’ll let you know directly . . . in fact you’ll know without being told and know that I have an intense dislike for all and sundry knowing my business so won’t put it in a chain email.

    I tell people not to send all the mail you mention to me, and REAL friends listen, however if they continue to come from acquaintances I just indicate to my email provider that it’s spam and lo and behold I suddenly have a spam folder full of prayer chains, jokes, photos of cute puppies with quotes and chain letters as well as those offers of cheap Viagra! I have no use for Viagra . . same goes for the chain letters etc.

    • You used the word “Viagra” so my WordPress setting wouldn’t show it till I approved it. See, that’s a good spam system.

      • Well…actually I’d say that’s a moronic spam system. It understands individual words where it ought to take context into account as well. It’s Just One More Thing about WordPress, which represents the commercial truth that a pile of hasty hacking done at top speed sometimes wins over deliberate design and engineering.

        • You seem to know a story. . .

          • Oh many. Software, like many other types of products, can be made to look like it’s a much higher quality product than it actually is. It’s pretty easy to create software that “gives good demo”. Like some automobile engineer said once: anybody can build a racing car that goes fast on a closed course. Try designing a family sedan that’s still good as new after 100,000 miles in the real world.

  4. I just tell people that my email has been compromised, (which it has been in the past), and out of safety concerns, I limit what it is I accept into my box. I go on to say that i am very, very careful about what I open and if I do not recognize sender or did not personally request whatever was sent, it will be immediately deleted.
    (This is all true btw. Yours is one of the few newsletters I accept and look forward to reading)

  5. My son got married last year and his mother-in-law—whom I’ve met only once—began to send me religious chain letters. I refused to play so I’m sure she and her husband pray regularly for me! Hey, that can’t be all bad, I guess! I despise chain letters of any stripe and delete them quickly before they can take root in my inbox.

  6. A FB friend announced that she wanted to send unsolicited promotional email about her books to everyone in her personal address book, and asked what we thought. I said, Sorry, but that’s a terrible idea. She asked why, but I didn’t reply. My heart sinks at explaining something so obvious. I rely on email, but some useful many boundaries have been obliterated by it–for one, the line in the sand between communication that’s “welcome” and “unwelcome.”

  7. There are pretty good automatic countermeasures you can take. Some of them take some initial effort, but if that much unwanted email is making it all the way to your inbox, they’d be worth it. It’s very difficult for unwanted email to make it as far as my main inbox; fewer than ten per week.

    There isn’t any reason to go through and delete email you don’t want; storage today is effectively free. I deal with the ones I DO want and just ignore the others.

    • I will freely admit that the host of my website and mail is doing a horrible job of filtering my mail. I’m looking for a new webhost and mail host. But the unwanted ones are in my inbox, mixed with the ones I need, and in my view, getting rid of the spam so I can see the ones I need is the only way I know how to get an overview of the ones I need.

      • Gmail has world-class spam filtering and it keeps getting better. It’s really pretty astonishing how good it’s become.

        Your email client can also help you if it supports rules (all of the ones I know about do). I have rules that route email into various folders based on things like sender, domain, keywords in the subject line, and content.

        There are also services that provide remote filtering — that is, you direct your email “through” their service (your address stays the same) and they filter out your spam for you. I haven’t used these but reviews are pretty good.

        My other method is using different email addresses for different things. They all arrive in the same place on my end, but I give out different email addresses depending on the likelihood that I’ll *ever* get anything I want to see. I have five different addresses that go from yahoo.com (my “throwaway” address) to gmail (my general purpose address) up to one that’s pretty private and has fewer points of access to snooping and control by any third parties (this might be overkill).

        • I do have different email addresses for different purposes. And I gate gmail. The threading of replies seems odd an non-intuitive; try to download a document and it says it has, but won’t tell you where, which means I have to check the title on each downloading document and then search for it. It puts it in a different folder every time, when all i want is to put it on my desktop. My biggest mistake was going with a friend who opened a webhosting and email business. I’ve done this once before and learned nothing, it seems. The friend who promised “24/7″ service is not paying attention, tells me my spam filters are at the highest settings and essentially shrugs me off. So now I have to do the hard thing. Find a new web and email host, and pull everything out (including a long list of saved and parked urls) and starting over.

          • Conversation View is an on/off setting in gmail. The default download folder depends on the browser you use; it sounds like your browser setting is “remember the last folder saved to and use that”. You can change that in your browser settings.

            But…you don’t have to use the webmail version of gmail. That’s just a way to view it; you can use any email client you want.

  8. Denise Spillane

    Here, here! I agree! I have avoided so many things because of this issue. I delete chain letters and tell people not to send. Now there are all these sneaky tricks to get you too.

    • What do you do when people get hurt that you deleted them?

      • I tell them once that I don’t “do” chain letters or forward political statements or jokes. Glad they are interested and have the time, but it’s not my style so thanks but please don’t send them. I figure if they get upset with that it is their problem. If they want half and half in their coffee and I drink it black…same idea. If it was a real problem I’d put that in my signature line on my e-mail message.

  9. Spam. I guess there are many of us who are feeling like the lady with the handbag in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch that gave the name to all those unwanted rubbish emails. Going though email can certainly be a bit like reading the menu in that restaurant. I don’t like spam. I ate enough it when I was a kid. But seriously, it is amazing that the sketch was done decades before email and it yet captures the feeling of receiving electric spam. Why wouldn’t we be entitle to have our meaningful connections without the noise of unwanted ones? Why wouldn’t we be entitled to have the egg, bacon, spam and sausage without the spam?

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