Priorities, priorities

April 16th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

A quick note followed by a question:

I was fiddling with the Mac Mail app’s menu bar when I noticed that it has the whole “priority” thing you can add (it isn’t there by default, or I turned it off early on in my Mac career). You can pick “normal,” “low,” or “high” priority, with the default being “normal.”

Because I struggle daily with a potent mix of near misanthropy, paranoia and cynicism, I’m constitutionally unable to imagine any human being ever marking a mail “low priority” unless so ordered. I can also imagine a lot of people who might abuse the hell out of “high priority,” an offense which will, if you’re a flack reading this, earn you the filter that makes your mail have an ugly brown label in the inbox. The kind of brown I picked exactly because it conveys to me unpleasant associations … a soul stained by inconsiderate excess and self-importance … the vague whiff of POOP.

Tonight I had to send a mail I considered briefly marking “high” because it had what I would consider the proper elements: time-sensitive schedule information, my desire to emphasize that the contents were to be read more closely than usual, and a hope that the little red exclamation mark Outlook would badge it with might earn the attention of the recipient, who does not use spam filters.

But I didn’t do it because I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone anywhere mentioning their use of priority labeling, and a brief survey of (an overwhelming number of university) pages on the matter indicated most people don’t think you should ever use it unless you’re writing the fire department to get them to come put out your house. And, as I indicated, I’ve been the recipient of mails well-meaning but dull people in the corporate communications world have labeled as “urgent” because they’re deeply concerned about the attached cold-call press release.

So, to the question(s):

Do you ever flag anything high priority? Is there any circumstance in which you would? Do you know anybody who does? How about low priority? Do you know any human being self-effacing and humble enough to advertise the relatively low attentional merit of one of his/her own messages?


  1. pk says:

    April 17th, 2007 at 9:23 am (#)

    Of nearly 500 messages in my work inbox, exactly none have any priority flag. I don’t think anyone is acclimated to noticing or considering them–most of us can tell by the sender or subject: “Holy shit–the boss!”

    About the only things that are flagged high are e-mail virus warnings or HR notices from the Admin address. The Admin people–that’s who uses that stuff.

    I can think of one person who self-deprecatingly flags something low when it’s just some dumb joke, but even there it has quote marks around it.

    Let’s figure out some way to monkeywrench this feature. it’s just sittin’ there….

  2. gl. says:

    April 17th, 2007 at 10:40 am (#)

    the people i know who use “high priority” mark it on political chain mail messages or hoaxes they think are real. the kind of people who use multiple exclamation marks!!!11! it’s made me very suspicious of the high priority flag. of course, if YOU sent it, i would immediately read it. :)

    i’ve never seen a low priority flag.

Leave a Response

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.