1915: Nightmare Email Feature

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Nightmare Email Feature
"...just got back and didn't see your message until just now. Sorry! -- TIME THIS MESSAGE SAT HALF-FINISHED IN DRAFTS FOLDER: 3 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes."
Title text: "...just got back and didn't see your message until just now. Sorry! -- TIME THIS MESSAGE SAT HALF-FINISHED IN DRAFTS FOLDER: 3 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes."


Most modern email clients provide tools to help their users read, write, and keep track of email efficiently. For instance, the user may receive a notification if the email body contains wording that suggests a file has been attached, but there is no actual attachment, in order to prevent them forgetting to include the intended file in the email.

This comic suggests a similar feature, one which would inform not the user, but the recipient of the message, how long the email has been revised before being sent. This is an expansion of a common feature of collaboration tools used by law firms, and modern word processors such as Microsoft Word 2016. Randall calls this his nightmare email feature, implying he spends too much time in revision of what should be simple email messages and that making himself - or worse, the recipient - aware of the actual time would make him anxious.

In the case shown it seems that the sender and recipient of the e-mail had recently met, and the recipient suggested meeting again this weekend. It then took 47 minutes to write a short reply in which the sender ends up saying only that they enjoyed the thing referred to, but, alas, they have no time this weekend, and then lets the other suggest a possible time for a dinner... or something. Of course there could be more to the email above the panel, but it seems to be a very short answer to another e-mail, and it increases the nightmare for the writer (and the impact of the joke) if this was all that was written in 47 minutes.

If the text had been written out in less than 2 minutes, it would not have been a problem, but it seems the writer of this e-mail had to think a lot about how it was phrased. This could lead the recipient to wonder what took so long. Was it that they did not enjoy it, but ended up writing this to be nice? They only write that they are busy this weekend, thus not giving any reason as to why, and the last part allows them the possibility of also being "busy" on whatever time is suggested for dinner. Also, "or something" is very non-committal. Alternatively it could be the opposite, for a case where the writer enjoyed the time a lot, and is really looking forward to another meeting, but tries to seem relaxed and open minded, to not scare the other person away. All of this would also be true if it had been written in 2 minutes, but then at least there would have been the excuse of not having spent a lot of time thinking about how the reply was phrased.

The title text describes a similarly uncomfortable feature, which would inform the recipient how long a message has been sitting in the user's drafts folder, thus highlighting their procrastination, as well as demonstrating that "(...)didn't see your message until just now" is a lie, or at least it was only true when the original message was written, and now three days later another message should have been written instead. This feature would also be able to catch anyone who tries to avoid the feature depicted in the comic by saving the email in "drafts" while making revisions outside the mailing software, either mentally or in another word processing program.

Randall has explored a related anxiety-inducing feature of instant messaging in 1886: Typing Notifications.

Applying the feature in the comic to this explanation: it sat incomplete in this wiki for approximately 2 months and 26 days (since the comic's creation), before an unregistered user removed its incomplete tag.


[A panel with a short email message, with the first line partly obscured by the top of the panel. Below that, in light gray font, is an information message from the email client.]
Enjoyed it! I'm busy this weekend, but let me know if you're free sometime next week and want to get dinner or something.
Total time spent revising this email before sending: 47 minutes 12 seconds
[Caption below the panel:]
My nightmare email feature

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I feel like the comic is more about the addressee of the mail seeing how much time the sender spent on the mail. In the comic, I feel like the sender is asking about having another date with someone and try to be casual about it, which would be contradicted by the time he actually spent on it.

In the same way, the title indicates that the mail spent 3 days in the drafts while the sender writes "I just saw your message". It would be very awkward if the recipient of the mail could see that it is a lie. 14:26, 13 November 2017 (UTC)

Indeed, you are correct. I misinterpreted the comic. Fvalves (talk) 15:43, 13 November 2017 (UTC)

He's always commenting on how you're responsible for how you're interpreted and now he's having difficulty managing his responsibility for how he's interpreted. 16:00, 13 November 2017 (UTC)

This is MY nightmare email feature. I spend 10 minutes per line.

The paradox is that it takes a long time for Randall to craft a socially acceptable email, but it is socially unacceptable to spend a long time crafting emails. If the email's composition time becomes part of the email itself, then it is impossible for Randall to send a socially acceptable email. He is carefully choosing the right words, rhythm, and sentence structure in his emails, because he is expected to sound relaxed, natural, and off-the-cuff. 21:40, 13 November 2017 (UTC)

I see nothing within the comic to definitively indicate that the receiver is seeing the time spent composing the message; That is an assumption, whether correct or not. Personally, I think the whole comic works both ways: I would be mortified to have a ticking clock counting my time spent writing a message. ... (I've spent four hours composing one SMS text.) I think the explanation should bear some indication of its speculative nature as to which party sees the timer. 07:51, 14 November 2017 (UTC)

I get where you're coming from, but that's inconsistent both with previous takes on the subject and with the title text. Also, there's that rectangle with three dots depicted inside that functions in Gmail to show/hide automatically hidden signature/footer and previous messages in the thread and is not shown in composing the mail, only in received/sent mails. To me, that's a definitive indication the "feature" is present in the sent mail, not in a draft. 09:14, 14 November 2017 (UTC)
Oh, just tested it and realized the triple-dot-button is present in composition window as well... Never mind :) I still think it's improbable the comic is about showing the info just to the sender, my argument about consistency with previous take and with the title text still stands. 09:28, 14 November 2017 (UTC)
Imho the text "before sending" indicates it's attached after sending the message. While editing the sender could be typing an template or something alike. Something not meant to be sent immediately after finishing. Vince 14:29, 14 November 2017 (UTC)
I actually find it rather definitively established that this can only be the receiver's version of the email, there's no speculation really. Taking the sender as Randall, if it's only Randall seeing this, it's not a nightmare, it doesn't qualify. Those of us who do this, spend inordinate amounts of time trying to appear casual when it doesn't come naturally, are well aware we do so. This feature could even be useful, as a way to try to tone down this behaviour, measure if we're getting better or worse. It's only the recipient seeing this evidence, that this message wasn't as casual as it appears, that makes this a NIGHTMARE feature. Now it's revealing Randall's secret, spoiling his pretense. I just see this as an email version of the Messaging version Typing Notifications comic from a few weeks earlier, which likewise tattles to Randall's correspondent about his agonizing over what to say and how. NiceGuy1 (talk) 07:16, 24 November 2017 (UTC)

Time spent editing this wiki page: ... Fabian42 (talk) 10:13, 14 November 2017 (UTC)

This is the beauty of explain xkcd. Like the commenter at above, I hadn't realised that this would be something the receiver would see. Yes that would be a nightmare. Jkshapiro (talk) 04:44, 3 December 2017 (UTC)

This is me, except with commit messages.