I’m a judgemental email sender and an anxious email recipient. When I send someone an email, I judge them based on their response time: instant? slow? eternal?

And by judgement, let me be clear: I’m not judging them on their email skills alone. Increasingly, I use email response time as an indicator of someone’s intrinsic worthiness as a human being. Non-responders are rude and unreliable; instant responders are clearly people with too much time on their hands.

Of course, my readiness to judge others leads me to assume that others are judging me: thus, my anxiety about how quick I respond to the latest missive in my inbox. An email happens to arrive just as I’m doing my brain-clearing inbox-check; the answer is easy, so I might as well respond instantly. But will that make me look like an idle slacker? Or maybe the email isn’t so easy-to-answer, so I set it aside, and then suddenly remember the unanswered message a week later: Oh no! They’ll think I’m a total flake!

All this judging — of self and others —  reminds me of the famous George Carlin line: “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” On email, the same principle holds true: people who reply (much) faster have too much time on their hands, and people who reply (much) slower are simply rude.

But in the normal curve of email response times, where are the cut-off points? What’s the speed of email response that makes someone look unpardonably slow? Suspiciously fast? I’m curious to hear what the response time is that you think constitutes the cut-off line on each side of the curve.

Normal curve of email response times