I read with great delight a Wall Street Journal story about a couple of Boston lawyers. One, a 24-year-old woman, sent an e-mail to an older, established lawyer declining a recent job offer.
The older lawyer, miffed the woman would e-mail a rejection after she'd already accepted the job orally, fired off a reply. He said she wasn't very professional.
She replied that if he were a real lawyer he would have had her sign a contract.
He replied, suggesting, in so many words, she was a snot. She sent one last e-mail reply: "blah, blah, blah."
Still miffed, the older lawyer e-mailed the exchange to a colleague, who forwarded it to another and soon the entire Boston legal community read it. It was featured on "Nightline" and in the papers, and now you're reading about it here.
This latest example of technology-enabled rudeness reminded me of a similar situation that occurred seven years ago.
Just after I'd moved to Washington, D.C., I joined a large writers' organization. Since I was new to town, I decided to start an informal monthly happy hour to meet other writers -- or, to be more precise, women writers.
I got permission from the writers' organization to send an e-mail out to all 4,000 members. Several folks e-mailed me back and we soon established a time and place to meet. Nearly 40 folks attended the first event -- one that would turn out to be the last event.
As it went, one woman there was particularly attractive. I soon found myself in competition with another writer fellow, who was also trying to win this lass's attention. She soon made it clear that she preferred women -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- and that she had no interest in either of us knuckleheads, and that she came only to discuss the writing craft.
Soon after she landed her blow, the other fellow and I quickly realized the pickings were otherwise slim. The other women there were either much older than we or otherwise didn't strike our fancy. It never occurred to us that they might have come to meet men.
One woman, a woman of overpowering verbosity, soon had us pinned up against the bar. For the rest of the evening she shoved a dozen opinions at us on every subject under the sun. It was the first time in my life I was happy to hear the words "last call."
The next morning, I got an e-mail from the other fellow. He thanked me for organizing the event, then said, "and for goodness sakes, for the next happy hour, don't invite any more loud obnoxious (expletive)."
I was surprised at the rudeness of the fellow's e-mail. That should have been the end of it, but it wasn't. It was the beginning.
Instead of e-mailing his response to me, you see, he unwittingly sent it to all 4,000 members of the writers' organization, some of which, much to his poor luck, were also women of overpowering verbosity.
I don't know how many e-mail responses came that day, but they surely topped 100. The story-line was clear. Our heroine, who was so viciously attacked, did nothing to deserve her fate and, incidentally, it's typical of misogynistic men to be threatened by intelligent women.
As for our villain, he was dubbed an idiotic male rogue. He should not only apologize, but he should resign from the writers' organization, give up writing, and move to another city, where, hopefully, something bad would happen to him.
In any event, technology is driving massive gains in productivity and efficiency. It only makes sense, then, that it would make us more efficient at being rude.
So the next time you feel compelled to mock someone who has done you no wrong, turn off your computer. Pick up the phone and do it the old-fashioned way.
In that case, you can offend only one person at a time.
TOM PURCELL is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated.