Business Brevity Is a Privilege


Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor

“People talk about inbox zero like they’re talking about heaven, Nirvana — some sort of religious aspirational construct.”

So begins The Atlantic’s half-joking, half-serious video with their senior editor James Hamblin describing how to maintain “inbox zero” — the fleeting, dreamy time when your email inbox contains no new messages. Evidently, the clip is supposed to be light-hearted and helpful. In the sample email shown on screen, the subject line reads “Follow me on Insta” and is addressed to “The Rock.” Small cutaway moments feature banter between the cameraperson and Hamblin.

Hamblin, as a person who undoubtedly receives a plethora of emails each day, offers his strategy to keep inboxes clean. His method revolves around two steps: first, don’t answer your emails as they come in. Instead, set aside a time to look at them so you’re not constantly refocusing between work and correspondence. Second, make your emails brief. Of the four parts of the email he identifies — the subject line, greeting, body and sign-off — Hamblin asserts that we can eliminate the greeting and the sign-off, and make the body paragraphs concise enough to only contain three sentences in total.

He recognizes that this portion of his advice will require “a complete shift in consciousness where things can be brief and it’s not considered rude or impolite or mean.” It’s a strategy of efficiency, not rudeness — brusque, not curt. After all, a recent study has shown that Americans spend about six hours in their inbox each day. Despite the comedic nature of the production, the video turns a blind eye to the double standard in the workplace.

The problem with Hamblin’s advice is that it’s not applicable to everyone. Already, women in the workplace have their attitudes and interactions monitored on a level much higher than men. Women giving orders are classified as nagging and bossy. If they aren’t nice and compromising at all times, female workers put promotions, equal pay and in the worst instances, their positions at risk. If women were to heed Hamblin’s advice, it’d be at their own risk. Until preconceptions of what women should act like are shifted to be equal with those of men, listening to him is downright dangerous.

It is also worth mentioning that interpersonal connections are what grow a business. Curtness is no way to make relationships. Sure, brevity is important, but it is crucial to remember that emails go to people, not faceless companies. With this video, Hamblin contributes to the modern decline of the human side of doing business.

While the video was meant to be humorous, it is just another example of the privileges that men have flaunted for ages and the shift to robot-like attitudes in business interactions.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, October 11th print edition. Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected].