Even though it’s become deeply entrenched in our lives the internet is still a relatively new thing and not all the rules of netiquette are completely worked out yet. And, like regular etiquette, they’re not even necessarily universal. For instance my spell-checker used to automatically capitalize Internet, because I guess it was a proper noun and now it’s not anymore, although in German the rule is that all nouns are capitalized because even when they’re not shouting Germans like the emphasize their nouns. Or maybe they consider all nouns proper, which is nice for the nouns, but I think I hear the verbs grumbling. It’s not even necessarily a universal rule that if you’re typing in all caps, or even several fedoras, and using only uppercase letters you’re shouting. There are lots of reasons why someone might be typing in all uppercase letters. Maybe the Caps Lock key on their keyboard is stuck, or maybe e.e. cummings used up all the lowercase letters. Maybe they’re speaking Kashubian, which is the only remaining Pomeranian language, and if you’ve ever been around Pomeranians you know they can only bark in all caps. Netiquette is also always evolving. For instance, do you know what the netiquette used to be regarding those business networking sites that send you an email at least three times a month telling you someone you met briefly at a conference would like you to join their network? If you said, “Um, were they once considered polite?” you’re absolutely wrong. They’ve always been even more obnoxious than going into a Star Trek discussion and talking about Zachary Quinto as the guy who directed Three Men & A Baby.
There’s really a point around here somewhere that I will get to eventually, and it’s this: rules of grammar and etiquette and even netiquette are naturally flexible and vary depending on the situation and the person. Having said that here’s something I think should be an inviolable rule: if you reply to someone’s email you should include their original email in your reply. This is especially true if you’re replying to them from an account that’s different from the one they used to contact you initially and that they’ve never used before. And it’s even more true if your entire email consists of this:
Yes I can do that.
Although I now realize I’m being unfair in saying that rule should be inviolable. After all we all make mistakes, to err is human and to forgive is something that rhymes with “human”, I guess, so let me clarify: if you make the mistake of sending a terse reply with no context or identifying information from a different email account so the person you’re replying to can’t find any record of ever having contacted you don’t get upset when that person asks if you can provide a little more information. Don’t imply, or outright state, that the person is stupid for asking you to remind them what the conversation was about. Don’t suggest, or just say, that it’s only been a month since they contacted you and they should remember the details.
It’s a pretty simple thing to ask and really stems from what should be the underlying rule of all interactions: think about the other person’s feelings, and remember that there’s a person on the other side of the computer screen. And also you probably shouldn’t share petty grievances, even in a vague way, with total strangers, although there’s gotta be some flexibility on that rule because to air is human.