Yale students are risk-averse. I get it. You’re taking the nice job in finance because your alternate plan to save the world doesn’t come with tons of travel or healthcare benefits. You make up for it though, because you vote Democrat! Except not for Bernie, because even though you agree with him more, Hillary is more electable. It’s cool. Whatever.
But this risk aversion doesn’t only apply to our major life decisions — it plays out in the small actions of our daily lives. Risk aversion keeps us from trying the espresso fizz at Blue State, because we’ve only ever gotten True Blue. (The espresso fizz is not half-bad, by the way.) A fear of failure keeps us from taking Major English Poets, if only because we’re not English majors. I think saddest of all, it keeps us from saying “Hi!” to people we know we’ve met before, but who also might not reciprocate the gesture.
I’ve heard that this phenomenon is peculiar to the Northeast. “We’re so busy and it’s so cold and we don’t know each other,” you say as you walk past me. “So I’m going to not say hello because that would be weird!” Well, Hypothetical Yale Student, it’s quite the contrary. Do you see what you’ve done? I’m going in for the eye-contact equivalent of a high-five, and you have just, as it were, left me hanging. It hurts!
Now, I’m a sturdy Midwesterner, so maybe I’m expecting too much from a bunch of risk-averse Yankees, too afraid to acknowledge each other’s mutual existence for fear of being left hanging. But, practical Illinois-bred lad that I am, I think I’ve found the solution: the cold email.
I will admit that the idea of the cold email is a little creepy at first. You’re all like, “Why is this strange student asking me to coffee, right after an email from Chief Ronnell Higgins?” But that’s the point! When a significant interaction is packaged just like an insignificant one, it becomes lower-stakes. It’s so much less stressful on the part of the sender, and the recipient. And, like a Sara Bareilles song, it’s so brave! So brash, but in a good way. Confident.
It’s much lower-stakes than sending a text. Sending a text requires a phone number, and procuring a phone number requires stopping whatever conversation you’re having, exchanging a random, really long sequence of digits (Where’s my QR credit?), and then trying to spell so-and-so’s last name in front of them without messing it up (“Yep, it’s ‘I-A-R…S-K-I,’ uh huh”). And then once you send the text, you have to anxiously wait for a response, an experience far too easy to catastrophize.
But with email, you can avoid these difficulties. As a Yale student, your EliApps is automatically populated with every other Yale student’s email address, so it’s like having a contacts list of your entire Company of Scholars/Society of Friends. (Hell, my email’s on the very bottom of this page.) With email, there’s not that sense that you should get an immediate reply, so you can go for days without getting a response and not have to fret.
On occasion, your cold email for friendship or courtship or what have you might end in rejection. But that’s cool too! We’ve all been rejected through email plenty of times. I’ve gotten my fair share of emails from the English Department registrar telling me I haven’t gotten into creative writing courses, and a few years ago my plans to get Ina Garten to give a Master’s Tea were thwarted. YaleSecure quite literally rejects me sometimes. Rejection is never fun, but via email, it’s fine, because we’ve all been desensitized to it.
The brilliant Tao Tao Holmes ’14 once wrote a column in these very pages about how ridiculous it is to let our insecurities forbid us from pursuing our friend crushes. She hoped that our admiration of each other “doesn’t prevent us from taking mutual friend crushes and transforming them into lasting friendships.”
I think that, in 2015, the cold email can serve as the pole vault over whatever social weirdness pervades our in-person interactions. It’s time to break out your favorite typeface and make sure your email signature is up to date. If we aren’t going to acknowledge each other in person, cold-email culture has the potential to create a Yale where we’re still able to talk to each other.
Austin Bryniarski is a senior in Calhoun College. His column usually runs on Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .