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Reserve instant reply for urgent things

 (The Spokesman-Review)
(The Spokesman-Review)
Judith Martin United Feature Syndicate

Dear Miss Manners: How quickly should one respond to personal e-mail? Because this form of communication is virtually instantaneous, I’d like to think that the recipient would want to dash off a reply as quickly as possible, adhering to an update of the old rule that a response should go out in the next post.

However, I’m disappointed to find that isn’t the case. What are your thoughts on this matter of netiquette?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners wishes that people would let go of the belief that they should be able to command others’ immediate attention for the ordinary business of life. Now that everyone has answering machines as protection from immediate intrusion, the demand is immediate availability by e-mail.

What if they have other things to do? What if they are having computer trouble? What if they are not in a mood to chat with you?

It is true that some forms of social communication should be answered immediately: responses to invitations, thanks for presents and favors, cries for help. Less urgent things can wait for the convenience of the recipient.

Dear Miss Manners: Jenna, a friend of my wife’s and mine, recently moved and in the process lost some photos including several of Jason. My wife and I had informally introduced them some 16 years ago, and the two had an on-again-off-again romantic relationship that ended amicably (at Jenna’s request) 10 years ago with no more contact since.

Jason is now married. Jenna has requested of us a photograph of Jason taken 10 to 15 years ago. She indicated that while she holds fond memories of their time together, she has no further interest in him – she simply wants the photo as a memento.

My wife has no problem complying with her request. I, on the other hand, am not sure if this is proper, as Jason is now a married man. Jenna suggested I may be gender- and or marital status-biased, in that if Jason made the same request, I might more readily comply.

Do we give Jenna a couple of old photos of Jason? Should we obtain Jason’s permission first? Is there a universal rule here irrespective of gender or marital status?

Gentle Reader: It is not clear to Miss Manners what you suspect that Jenna will do, or be inspired to do, if she has Jason’s photograph, which she has had all these years without making a scandal.

It doesn’t seem much clearer to Jenna, either, as Jason’s being married, not his gender, is what seems to make the difference to you. But we both know that you suspect her of wrongdoing, and neither of us knows why. Keeping photographs of people from one’s past seems perfectly harmless.

You do not need an excuse to refuse to give up your pictures, although refusing to allow them to be copied seems unnecessarily churlish. But there is no excuse for doing so by insulting the motives of your friend.

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