Scheduling canned spam

Suppose your friend’s birthday is coming up. You see it in your calendar, and you’d like to congratulate him/her on the day itself, but you know you have a horrible memory. Or perhaps you’ll be travelling and won’t have access to a phone or the internet. So instead you write a nice message in advance and schedule it using something like Mixmax or Boomerang to be sent on the day itself. Joy and appreciation ensues, and you gain brownie points and goodwill in spades.

This is so effective that you decide to do the same thing for every single friend in your address book. In a fit of exuberance you schedule the same email to be sent to every friend on facebook, helped largely thanks to mail merge features.

One day you’re telling a friend about Mixmax and the penny drops. She asks you if the email she got for her birthday was scheduled. Question is, should she be angry?

I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end. I help run a local Toastmasters club and send copious amounts of canned emails to new guests. I also receive my fair share of canned spam, and I really doubt there’s someone writing and sending each of those personalised marketing emails!

Phrased one way, it seems absurd. Does planning for something in advance cheapen its value? More emotively, is the quality or meaningfulness of a message reduced.

I was trying to figure out why the idea of someone sending canned emails annoyed me so much, and I’ve come to the conclusion it’s the relative ease which gets my goat. It takes me ages to write a simple email, so much so that sometimes I just give up and say I’ll make a mental note to catch up next time instead… which I never do. So hearing someone else barely lifting a finger to do it doesn’t sit so well.

But there’s more to it. If Martha sent me a scheduled email on my birthday, I think I’d be pretty uncomfortable, even if I could rationalise why she did it. I’d be doubly pissed if I recognised the contents from other canned emails she’d sent out.

Who it’s from, and how personal the message is makes a big difference. Not to mention how efficient you are at dealing with birthday cards yourself.

But if getting annoyed at something like this really means not being able to stay in touch with as many people, setting up a system doesn’t seem that bad after all. Just maybe not to everyone and a little less canned…

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