In a very brief post John Hawks writes:
I could not possibly count the number of “Hey, John” e-mails I’ve gotten from undergraduates who were never taught any better. I’m not an e-mail snob, but some do get answered much more promptly than others.
And he provides this link on “Personal vs. Professional Email” which emphasizes establishing a respectful tone without bombast or flattery.
This model of email etiquette neatly summarizes how things were done back in the day when I was a college student (*cue wipe to flashback sequence). About sixteen years ago regular people outside a few specialized professions were just getting started on email. Folks thought of the email like it was a letter simply because there was nothing else in our lives to compare it to. It was composed sitting at a desk on a desktop PC. You started all of them with “Dear So-and-so,” and finished it with “Sincerely.”
But this is not how people email anymore. Certainly not young people who comprise the majority of my students. Their emails are composed on their cell phones in a state of distraction. The paper letter is no longer their point of reference. Tweets, status updates, and IM’s are. Informality, empty subject lines and absent greetings don’t even register as an annoyance for me. I do frequently become annoyed by the content of my students’ emails, but I see that as independent of the form of their communique.
Just as frequently I respond to their messages without hailing them in salutation or signing my name. This is the way it is done now. Even with my liberal attitude I have the damnedest time keeping in contact with some students by email. Last week in my Gen Anth class we were talking about the role of Facebook and Twitter in Libya when one woman remarked, “Email is obsolete.” For a lot of my students the bulk of their on-line lives are mediated by social networks and IM. No wonder its hard for me to get in touch with them! Email’s days are numbered.
I get what the link Hawks provides is saying. I don’t send subjectless, greetingless emails to publishers for instance – and yes, at some point I had to learn this behavior. By Hawks own measure he’s no snob and I don’t question his commitment to his students. But academia is already crowded with rules of form and rituals of decorum. You gotta pick your battles and email etiquette is like adding an extra layer of stodginess to something that already has to contend with being cast as old fashioned.