One thing at at time

Why is it that so many people — even many seemingly intelligent ones — cannot seem to respond to anything past the first item in an email? What’s with that?

I’ve often been tempted to conclude that the basic issue is a length and attention span thing, but I’m not so sure: I have often seen it happen with brief, bulleted questions (which has been my default style for any important multi-point email for many years). In all seriousness, I think it’s probably a genuine psychological phenomenon, some cousin of inattentional blindness: that the internal reaction to the first question/point overrides the perception of the subsequent ones. I bet people start crafting a response in their heads and boom, that’s it.

(Meanwhile, on the other end of this phenomenon, emailers who claim to “try to be as brief as possible” always send about five dense, murky, redundant paragraphs with a crop of sprawling questions like, “What’s your take on all this?” You mean, other than what’s in my 5000-word article on the topic?)