Canned Email

Let’s pretend the answer to email fatigue is more automation.


I feel more acutely aware of the strain of feigned enthusiasm when I am writing email. I guess it is not much different than day to day interactions like answering “things are going good” when asked, when actually things are not so great. But some email correspondence feels like a race to collect and dispense exclamation marks and xoxos. As if we could cash them all in for prizes upon achieving — Darth Vader voice, flashlight under chin — inbox zero.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Xoxooxoxooxooxoooooooooxooxoxoxooxoxo!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxooxoxooxooxoooooooooxooxoxoxooxoxo!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxooxoxooxooxoooooooooxooxoxoxooxoxo!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxooxoxooxooxoooooooooxooxoxoxooxoxo!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Xoxooxoxooxooxoooooooooxooxoxoxooxoxo!!!!!!!!!!!

That paragraph I just wrote appears more cynical than I intended. But that’s my point. It is hard to communicate in words. It is work. What was once the concern of professional writers is now a burden we all share, as we communicate all day long over email and texts.

We might garnish our messages with emoticons and emojis like strewing garland and bunting to demonstrate emotion. Sometimes that comes out naturally. But that fake smile, “yeah, things are going good,” way of deflecting attention, and containing unhappiness, plays out differently in written correspondence. When I attempt to display an emotion I don’t actually feel over email, I fret over sounding insincere or abrupt or otherwise upsetting someone unintentionally.

“Emotional labor performed!”

That’s why I made this: the Emotional Labor email extension. Install it in Chrome, then click on the smiley face after composing an email in Gmail to brighten up the mood of the letter. It replaces serious words with playful ones, swaps out periods for exclamation marks, and a adds cheerful introductory text.

Using the Emotional Labor email extension on a famous email received through Gmail.

Everyone has a story you tell again and again. But you alter it a bit upon each re-telling don’t you? You edit it for length, you play up certain details depending upon company. Customer service is where that line blurs. It can be impossible to tell whether a voice on the phone is automated or a real person speaking committedly to a script.

I was inspired to create the extension after many futile attempts to start using canned responses. “Canned responses” — email written in advance to send again and again — is a common bullet point on content listicles suggesting ways someone might improve their productivity. Canned responses are kind of like a one-on-one FAQ. If people often ask directions to your office, you can write a canned response to send rather than writing the directions out over and over. Or, if you are a vendor that often receives the same question from customers, you can send a canned response with the answer instead of cutting-and-pasting again and again. I have a few shortcuts for texting on my phone (autocorrect “OMW” to “On my way!” has saved me precious seconds when I’ve needed to remove my gloves to text someone in the cold.) But I never found a reason to use canned answers. Nothing in my life is structured for its use.

Romantimatic options

The Emotional Labor extension is also a response to an app released last year: Romantimatic. It automates sending texts like “I love you” and other sweet nothings to a person’s love interest. While canned answers were developed for professional use, the Romantimatic app less ambiguously demonstrates where credence to authenticity should outweigh urgency and obligation. One of the suggested messages to send is “I can’t get you off my mind,” which is ridiculously untrue if this app is in use.

The Emotional Labor email extension looks fake. That’s the point. I wanted to reveal my exhaustion, my fatigue in needing to attend to so much correspondence. Until there is an emoticon for “Things are kind of not great but I don’t want to disturb you let’s just pretend things are fine,” that’s the grey area where this project resides. I made this to reveal the friction in my indecisiveness — how many xs do I normally sign off — one, two, three?

Perhaps it may be of some use!!!! Or, at the very least, I hope you find it amusing!!!!!

XOXO