By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, April 20, 2008

A COLLEAGUE fires an e-mail around announcing that he won a well-deserved professional award. I notice that he's sent the message to a large group in the "TO" field, with just three of us singled out in the "CC" field. I wonder why we three were afterthoughts, if we were. I waste four minutes of my life trying to imagine the guy's address book, and if I'm even in it, then come to my senses and write back: "That's so great! Congratulations!"

A few minutes later, a woman writes her congrats, but she has hit "Reply All," and so we all get to learn her opinion on the meaning of the award, including one pointed remark about how this terrific recognition is yet another example of what could happen if the blah blah funding from the blah blah endowment were allocated " fairly." I am impressed with the speed of her considered statement and wonder if she had it prepared in advance and was just waiting for a chance to say this to someone in the TO field or the CC field, but certainly not to me, seeing as I have never even heard of the endowment. I continue to study the CC field, noticing that a colleague/friend has not been included in any of this e-mail exchange, and so I forward it to her and "BCC" my husband.

"Why are you sending me this?" my husband writes back. "Do I know these people?"

"Probably not," I tell him. "But don't you think it's . . . funny?"

He writes back: "????" And so I say, "Never mind." Then he says I must be bored at work, and then he questions the use of BCC, wondering about the ethics. "When you BCC someone, it's kind of like whispering a secret," he writes. I tell him, yeah, but it's okay to tell secrets to your family. And he says, no, not really; he would never BCC me a message that a patient sent to him in his shrink practice. And I say, no, of course not. And then he says he is not bored at work, so he's gotta go.

Another Reply All comes through, congratulating the original sender, and, as to the funding remark, this person says: "Yessss!"

"Then let's have a meeting to discuss the endowment," snaps a third Reply All-er. "This is not an appropriate forum. P.S. Congrats."

I start understanding why I'm just a lowly person on the CC list, seeing as I have no idea what this crossfire is about, and I get the sense that an afterthought is sometimes a very, very good thing to be.

"ISN'T THIS HILARIOUS!" a friend writes, forwarding the whole exchange to me, just in case I missed a beat. He has CC'd it to a person I don't recognize, so I don't feel comfortable hitting Reply All when I write back: "HILARIOUS! EXCEPT I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!" I don't know why I'm all-caps shouting, maybe just because he was.

Next, I get a reply from the colleague/friend to whom I forwarded the original message when I BCC'd my husband. "I wonder why I wasn't on the original list," she says. "Harrumph! Like I care . . . But it's nice he got the award. I like him so much."

"Me, too!" I write back. "It's nice to see the Good Guys win." I tell her about the drama unfolding about the blah blah endowment, and she writes back "ugh" and says she's glad she's not in the middle of it. I say she's more mature than I am because I'm getting a perverse fascination watching the unfolding implosion.

The next message TO ALL is flagged with a red exclamation point indicating High Importance. There is no message in the body of the text, just a link to a Web site, on which I dutifully click and find there a description of the blah blah endowment and its purpose and a lot of "i, ii, iii, iv" particulars regarding the distribution of funds. But it's the absence of text in the message body that is most jarring. The void. That is the white space of rage.

Finally, there lands in my inbox a little gift: A friend who works as a secretary way up in the boss's boss's office BCCs me a message going around upstairs about how the "chatter" regarding the blah blah funding has "resumed," and so they would like to call a meeting to all interested parties to revisit the "debate." I thank my friend, BCC'ing my husband on the exchange. He writes back: "????"

"I'm a BCC!" I say. "Isn't that cool? Isn't that the highest honor of trust and friendship?"

He writes back: "!!!!" Which I take to mean: "Get a life." Then he writes again about how I must be bored at work, which I emphatically deny, explaining that there is so much drama to be had decoding and deconstructing one's place in a TO, CC and BCC field, not to mention the distribution of text in a message's body -- and all this regarding a subject of which I have zero understanding or interest.

He writes back: "!!!!" Which I am still trying to decode.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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