The Anxiety of the Unanswered E-Mail


In today’s New York Times a piece by Aline Tugend provides invaluable insights into one of the plagues of our generation: unreturned e-mails, texts, phone calls and messages. The social phenomenon is increasing as people switch off more and more rather than politely declining. The hope seems to be that ignoring an email or message may lead to it simply going away. Adam Boettiger, a digital marketing consultant based in Portland Oregon, suggests that the growing phenomenon is the equivalent of pretending that you are not home when someone knocks at the door of your house. Ellen Dux, a former film executive, has even suggested that a popular saying in the film industry is now that “no response to an email is the new no.”

Tugend’s research suggests that nonresponders explain their behaviour in terms of pressures such as time, too many e-mails and forgetting. The research also suggests, however, that emotional factors are also involved, such as the fear of commitment or the hesitation to say no.

So what’s the human centred solution to “the new no” ?

Tugend suggests to not be quick to leap to conclusions. It is unlikely that a best friend or a work colleague has suddenly been alienated. The simple solution is to try again.

Tugend also has a suggestion for those who habitually don’t respond. Send a quick e-mail just to say you can’t answer now.