Why we sign our emails "Thank you"

...the need for those sorts of rituals remains important, particularly in electronic communication where tone is hard to read. We end our communiques with “talk later,” “talk 2 u tomorrow,” or even simply “bye.” “Thanks” and “Thank you” have worked their way into this portion of the formula particularly in emails. More traditional valedictions have been replaced with “Thank you” so subtly that it’s now a common sign-off in this medium. But what does it mean? And why is it more acceptable than “Sincerely” or “Yours truly”?
It is in part be a reflection of our times. Email offers a speedier means of contact than an actual letter (and in some cases, a telephone), but that speed also means we’re sending more messages through this medium both for personal and professional reasons, and reading and responding to these messages requires a commitment of time. So it’s more important that the sender recognize the burden that they’ve placed on the recipient. In a time when letters took time to write, send, and respond to, it was important for the sender to attest to her reliability. Responses and actions were not so easy to take back. “Sincerely” and “Yours truly” which were meant to build trust between communicants. Credibility was an important determinant of whether a response would be issues. Today, as the web enables stranger to contact each other with little effort, credibility is less of a factor in determining responses (SPAM mail aside) when weighed against time.

From Scientific American.

I disagree with the end of the article, though, in which the author argues that affectionate closings are "vital to the continuation of the relationship."

The line between email and messaging (SMS, Facebook, Twitter DM's, WhatsApp, etc.) has blurred. In professional settings, you're taught that shorter emails are better, and that has removed one thing that differentiates email from messages. Since no one puts valedictions or even greetings in messages, they're starting to disappear from emails as well. Most of the email I receive no longer begins with a greeting like "Eugene", and most of them don't even end with a signature since it's clear from the From: line who the email is from.

The Lance Armstrong affair post-mortem part 1

I'm still not all the way through the USADA report on Lance Armstrong. It's old news by this point to most people, especially as most Americans only followed cycling for the years Armstrong was relevant.

This won't be my moral judgment on the whole affair, and anyhow that's probably the least interesting information I could offer up at this point given that most people have already affiliated themselves on one side or the other of the argument.

I did want to highlight, though, some more broadly interesting bits of the USADA report and Tyler Hamilton's tell-all book The Secret Race for those who didn't bother with them.

First of note, and I must confess to feeling deep guilt for being fascinated by this material, are some of the emails between some of the players in this affair. For example, here's an email exchange between Armstrong and then teammate Frankie Andreu from Andreu's wife Betty Andreu's affidavit (PDF). It won't take long to read, go ahead and power through it, and then come back.

Amazing, right? I don't mean amazing in the sense of inspiring (for example, in the sense of giving hope to millions of cancer patients). I mean amazing in the sense of how deeply trivial the whole argument seems and yet how heated it becomes, in the very real way that friendships and relationships often fracture in the real world. To be honest, it's a bit of a coincidence that this bickering email exchange is even included in the USADA report as it's only tangentially related to doping (and then only in the sense of demonstrating the retaliatory environment Lance threatened team members with, or at least that's the guess on the part of me with my zero law degrees).

I already have a deep fascination of this entire form, the emotional battle fought via email. A close variant are professional coaches or players who complain about each other to reporters instead of to each other. Or friends who bicker via text messages. These are all extreme forms of passive aggression, and passive aggressive people are both cowardly and riveting.

When I read these emails I picture people pounding away at their keyboards, faces constricted with anger. The same anonymity shield that enables trolling has enabled an entire class of passive aggressive warfare the likes of which the world has never seen.

If you ever planned to send an email like this, my advice is to not do it. Or if you write the email, don't send it. Keep it there, memorize it, then go find the person and speak to them in person, using your email as an outline. It will be far more productive, you will likely strip some of the most cruel attacks way down when speaking in person, and some time later you'll read the email, find it shockingly melodramatic, and delete it. Having been in the business world for a while now, I'm often convinced that half of becoming a senior leader in a company is learning to shed away layers of passive aggression.

But if you can't help yourself and must hide behind the technological veil of email, then at least lob grenades on topics of enough public interest that these emails surface to the public so we can enjoy hours of juicy textual soap opera magic.

The Andreu - Armstrong email exchange is interesting because two years later, Armstrong and Andreu have a more tender email exchange (PDF), with Armstrong prodding Andreu to return to racing.

Many of the emails are intriguing not for the nuggets about doping but for all the other human interaction that just happen to be packed into the email around them. For example, this email from Christian Vande Velde to Frankie Andreu (PDF) has only the briefest relevance to the doping case (It mentions "You'd be find for a day under the proper care of Louis" which is a one-line reference to Luis del Moral, a Spanish doctor among the central figures in the doping investigation). Surrounding it is a friendly check-in email that conveys much about rider psychology and the particular fabric of male camaraderie among the team, in the way that old letter exchanges between Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning tell us so much about the nature of not just their romance but all romances and great loves of their age.

Here is another rich transcript, this one an IM exchange between Frankie Andreu and Jonathan Vaughters, discussing their feelings about Lance's doping program. It's a riveting exchange, indicative of how much everyone inside cycling knew about how the doping worked, down to specific details, and how Andreu and Vaughters felt about Armstrong (as with most people not in Armstrong's inner circle, they thought he was an asshole), but even more remarkable to me in some ways is the sheer length of the exchange. I text a fair bit, but I have never had a single text message exchange of this duration. You can feel the intensity of emotion from Andreu and Vaughters rising off of these short bursts of text from this traditionally concise communication medium. Vaughters sense of guilt and remorse is palpable, and it makes his op-ed in the NYTimes  many years later (published in August this year) feel like the closing of a loop.

Today we collect and republish remarkable letters from years past at sites like Letters of Note. But for modern communication, we're not waiting. We have sites like HeTexted and Texts From Last Night commemorating communications in near real-time for public dissection. I hope we have sites in the future that publish email exchanges as well. It's the dominant long-form communication method of this age, and in so many ways it's the richest documentation of human interaction, especially within tech companies where it's the dominant communication medium.

I had an idea for a series of books documenting tech company histories comprised entirely of just emails sent to and from employees of that company. Maybe the series would be titled 1001 emails, and each book in the series would look at a different company, like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc. It will probably never happen given how secretive tech companies are, but that would be amazing, wouldn't it?

Until then, if you're just mildly interested in the Lance Armstrong case, I suggest the exchanges linked above, and if you want to dive in deeper, Appendix A (at the top of the page here) holds the majority of the most readable, general interest material. We may not get our hagiographic Lance Armstrong biopic starring Matt Damon anymore, but in this material is in some ways a richer vein of human drama.