What’s rude is rude, even in e-mail

In a face-to-face confrontation, they’d be fighting words — literally, and, one would hope, legally — even when directed at a 50-year-old jalopy like me. In an e-mail, well, there’s not a whole lot anyone can do, except maybe write about it, if you happen to have an outlet.

It was e-mail. . . . Isn’t it always with this type?

The man was writing in response to an earlier column — Caller ID spoofing defended — and the suggestion that a little spoofing might be justifiable if it’s needed to keep your kids from ignoring the parental digits when they’re flashing on their cell phones.

“Sorry, but YOUR inability to parent your teenage daughters shouldn’t be an excuse to have poor and sloppy phone security,” writes our expert, who didn’t sign his name and may have faked an e-mail address. “Learn to discipline your little sluts and you wouldn’t have to worry that they’d not answer your call.”

Now, I’m used to being called names, but this was so wrong on so many levels.

First of all, he doesn’t know anything about me, my family or my parenting skills.

Second, I don’t have any teenage daughters, never mind two; my darling Emma is only 6 years old, and, I’m happy to report, knows not of cell phones, caller ID spoofing . . . or sex.

The guy with the teenage daughters is reader Mitch Crane of Bethlehem, Ga. Crane had written to me in response to an even earlier column headlined, Caller ID spoofing: Juvenile? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.

“I have to confess, I, too, am a Caller-ID spoofer,” Crane wrote. “You see, I have two teenage daughters who have uncanny luck with their phone service: It goes out when they don’t want to hear from a parent. I just randomly pick one of their friends’ numbers, spoof it and I miraculously get through. . . . I’m sure they, too, think the practice is evil and should be outlawed.”

I chose to include Crane’s amusing anecdote in my column. This means that the guy who wrote to assail my parenting chops and gratuitously insulted my nonexistent teenagers didn’t fare too well on the reading-comprehension part of his SATs. Anyone surprised?

I tried sending a reply to the judgmental fellow. It read: “First off, they aren’t my kids; they are the daughters of a reader. Second, what in the world would possibly give you reason to refer to them as sluts? … Regards, Paul McNamara, Network World.”

Yes, far too polite, in retrospect. But it bounced back anyway.

Next I thought long and hard about whether to forward the guy’s insulting rant to its actual intended target, Mitch Crane. On the one hand, Crane had done nothing to deserve such treatment (never mind his daughters). On the other, I was curious to see how the real father would react. I forwarded it along, with a note of apology.

Crane’s reply: “It’s amazing how rude people can be when typing at a distant stranger. Being a longtime user of various online services and Usenet, IRC, etc., I’m used to that kind of thing. That’s not to say that it doesn’t bother me when people behave that way; I just don’t take it personally. . . . If I thought about it too hard I’d probably get angry and want to punch his lights out, but I’m not going to let some anonymous jerk ruin my day.”

Moral of this story: If the e-mail you’re about to send would cause a reasonable dad (or mom) to bop you in the nose, try toning it down.

And, if that’s too much to ask, don’t be criticizing anyone else’s parenting skills; worry about what kind of an example you’re setting for your own kids.

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