The Email and the Election

His wit invites you by his looks to come,
But when you knock it, never is at home.
—William Cowper, Conversation

One of the exciting things to which we can look forward on November 4 is the return of the inbox on the computer to something we remember from what now seems like long ago.

What we have learned from the last six months is that there are untold ways of attempting to capture the attention of an email recipient and what follows is merely a small sample of the means employed by senders. The computer announces the arrival of an email by providing the identity of the sender, albeit frequently in incomprehensible style, coupled with a brief description of the email’s content, which may or may not prove helpful to the recipient in deciding whether to strike the key that opens the email or the key that deletes it.

As any good English teacher will instruct the student, it is important when writing a short piece, that the opening grab the attention of the reader and compels the reader to continue reading. With emails, that is, of course, impossible, because what the recipient sees when an email arrives, is the name of the sender which except during an election, is usually someone of whom the recipient has never heard, and a VERY short description of what the sender hopes will pique the recipient’s interest and cause the recipient to invite the contents into the recipient’s universe. A few examples from two senders follow but their emails are nothing more than representative of the dozens that arrive each day during the election season.

With the advent of the first snow an email was received the subject matter of which was “Brrrr.” Contrary to the recipient’s first thought that the sender was commenting on the onslaught of winter in her part of the country, it was in fact an email asking for contributions so the campaign for which she was working in Montana could buy handwarmers for those knocking on doors and snow shovels for clearing driveways so voters could get to the polls.

In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper is hoping to replace the current sitting senator, Cory Gardner. In order to attract the attention of his supporters, Hickenlooper sends out emails at the rate of three or four (and sometimes more) a day that are intended to cause the recipient to want to part with money in order to help with his campaign. The language used to entice is different each time.

An email sent out on October 24 had a simple subject line: “Pickle.” That subject, like “brrr,” was designed to arouse the recipient’s curiosity, and when satisfied, to cause the recipient to send money to the sender since the “pickle” referred to described the campaign’s financial woes. “Pickle” was next followed by an ungrammatical email inquiring “who would you rather have” contrasting the two candidates in the race. A short time later that same day another arrived announcing that: “Our lead is plummeting” but then, in order to prevent the recipient from panicking, that email was soon followed by an email the subject of which was: “The sky is ‘not’ falling.” That reassurance was followed, in the text, by a statement that the candidate was not trying to fool us by using that language but to alert the reader to the fact that the fundraising was short of what was needed. Later in the day another was received promising: “I’ll be direct with you” and to the reader’s non-surprise it expressed dismay at fundraising results. A short time later another arrived suggesting how many Boulder people should contribute that day to achieve a goal. The email having not, apparently, achieved the desired result, later that day another arrived entitled “scrambling” that suggested that being direct had not served the candidate as hoped and “scrambling” was describing the actions of the candidate in an effort to stay afloat.

The first email the following day announced, “our lead has shrunk” followed shortly by a bit of a non sequitur that instructed the reader that “I need you to stay strong,” a suggestion that it was the recipient rather than the candidate who was worried.

The next day’s pronouncement stated that “A lot has changed” followed shortly by an email announcing that “I couldn’t sleep last night” followed by another announcing “dangerously behind” followed shortly by “Three sentences” and then another with the subject “seven.” (For the curious that email requested a $7 donation representing the 7 days remaining before the election.)

The foregoing is nothing more than a brief sampling of the sorts of emails we are getting ad nauseam before the election. Whether or not the emails described are helpful to the reader or the candidate, one thing on which we can all agree is that the day when our emails come solely from friends, family, and even advertisers, will be a welcome day indeed.

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