Another resolution ‹ tech etiquette

Here's something many of us need to do better in the New Year: Be more civil toward one another, particularly where technology is concerned.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal story last year about a couple of Boston lawyers. One, a 24-year-old woman, sent an e-mail to an older, established lawyer declining his job offer.

The older lawyer, miffed the woman would e-mail her rejection after she'd already accepted the job orally, fired off a reply. He said she wasn't very professional.

She replied that if he were a real lawyer he would have had her sign a contract. So he replied, suggesting, in so many words, that she was a snot. She sent one last reply that read: "blah, blah, blah."

Well, the older lawyer e-mailed the exchange to a colleague, who forwarded it to another colleague and soon the entire Boston legal community read it. It was featured on "Nightline" and in the papers, and now you're reading about it here.

This latest example of technology-enhanced rudeness reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me seven years ago. Just after moving to Washington, D.C., I'd joined a large writers' organization. Since I was new to town, I decided to start an informal monthly happy hour to meet other writers ­ essentially, women writers.

I got permission from the writers' organization to send an e-mail out to all 4,000 members. Several folks e-mailed me back, and we soon established a time and place to meet. Nearly 40 folks attended the first event ­ one that would be the last event.

As it went, one particularly attractive attendee caught my attention. I found myself in stiff competition with another fellow in trying to win the woman's affection. She soon made it clear to us that she had no interest in either of us knuckleheads and that she came only to discuss the writing craft.

After she landed her blow, the other fellow and I quickly realized the pickings were otherwise slim. The other women were either much older than we or otherwise didn't strike our fancy. It never occurred to us that they might have come to meet men.

One woman, a woman of overpowering verbosity, soon had us pinned up against the bar. For the rest of the evening she shoved a dozen opinions at us on every subject under the sun. It was the first time in my life I was happy to hear the words "last call."

The next morning, I got an e-mail from the other fellow. He thanked me for organizing the event, then said, "and for goodness sakes, for the next happy hour event, do not invite any more loud, obnoxious (expletive)!"

I was surprised at the rudeness of the fellow's e-mail. That should have been the end of it. But it was just the beginning.

You see, instead of e-mailing his response only to me, the fellow unwittingly sent his reply to all 4,000 members of the writers' organization, some of whom, much to his poor luck, were also women of overpowering verbosity.

I don't know how many e-mail responses came that day, but they surely topped 100. A story-line quickly established itself. Our heroine, who was so viciously attacked, did nothing to deserve her fate and, incidentally, it's typical of misogynistic men to be threatened by intelligent women.

As for our villain, they dubbed him an idiotic male rogue. He not only should apologize, the e-mails demanded, but he also should resign from the writers' organization, give up writing altogether, and move to another city, where, they hoped, something bad would happen to him.

In any event, as civility continues breaking down across America, technology is helping us get more efficient at being rude. In the New Year, we ought to be more cautious when we use it.

Here's one solution: If you wish to say something nasty about somebody, use the phone. You can offend only one person at a time that way.