The Cognitive Cost of Carbon Copy Email

If you haven’t noticed, we have a major email overload problem in our lives and society. There are many reasons for email overload, and there is not a single solution, but one way we can address some of the underlying issues is to reflect on what I’ll term “the cognitive cost of carbon copy email.”

Carbon Copy, or CC email, are messages we send to recipients in addition to the primary folks included in the TO line of an email. One of the important and basic email protocol lessons all teachers should learn is how to BCC (blind carbon copy) both parents and students when sending email messages. By using the BCC field, others can receive your email but NOT view the email addresses of other recipients. Generally it’s a best practice to put your OWN email address in the TO line of a mass email, and then paste the recipient email addresses in the BCC line. Failing to BCC recipients can lead to an unwanted and potentially hazardous series of REPLY ALL messages. The BCC field is our friend, and we are wise to use it regularly, especially for mass emails sent to parents and other groups.

CC or carbon copy email messages, however, can also create problems. I’m not sure we take enough time to both reflect on and discuss the COGNITIVE COST of CC emails. By “cognitive cost,” I mean the time and brain processing energy which is used and required when someone receives a CC message. As a school technology director, it costs me nothing to send a member of my staff a CC message. That person, however, has “just one more” message in their InBox to process, and my CC send decision takes a chunk of time out of their day to view and process the message. That time could be a few seconds, a few minutes, or longer. The point is, I as the sender have not had to spend any more time or energy to send the CC message. My staff member, however, bears the “cognitive cost.”

Of course there are good reasons to send CC email messages. We want to keep others in the loop. Sometimes we’re documenting something and “covering” ourselves by looping in a superior or other individual who needs to be informed. Quite often in my case, however, I think I’ve been guilty of CCing more people than I need to… and the cost-free nature of CC email (from the perspective of the SENDER) has not deterred me from this habit.

As a side note, we have all likely experienced a co-worker who unnecessarily uses the CC field in an email in an effort to bully or virtually bludgeon someone. I’ve had these happen a few times as a technology director. Rather than just email, call or talk to me about an issue, I’ve had teachers email me as well as their principal and other school administrators. Unfortunately, these kinds of messages rarely produce a constructive effect. Another important email lesson for everyone is to address contentious issues offline, either with a face-to-face conversation or a phone call. CCing the chain of command, especially when the sender is upset or otherwise emotional, is rarely constructive in my experience.

I’m also reminded of current debates over climate change and debates about a carbon tax. I’m not going to focus on the opinions in this debate in this post, but I do want to highlight a key term for climate change discussions: Externalities. The English WikiPedia explains:

In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.

Externality. (2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Externality&oldid=900768871

We should all recognize that carbon copy email includes externalities for recipients but not senders. We place a burden of expected time and attention on others when we CC them. Recognizing this, perhaps we should all ask ourselves a few questions before we blithely add one or more email addresses to the CC line of a message:

  1. Is it really important that all the people I’m CCing read or even receive this message?
  2. Why am I CCing this person?
  3. How do I determine that the “threshold of importance” has been crossed when CCing someone?

I’m convinced we should not only be talking more about email overload in our schools and other organizations, we should also be taking proactive steps to address it and reduce its harmful effects. Information overload is REAL for almost everyone who is a knowledge worker today, and that includes all teachers, administrators and school support staff. Email is out of control, and while CC messages only represent a part of those unread messages, they do represent a fraction we can potentially address and work to reduce together.

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In Praise of Golden Retrievers

In the past year, I’ve become even more aware of how incredibly important and powerful the unconditional love of golden retrievers can be for health, wellness, and family happiness.

Thanks in large part to my uncle’s family, Ron and Kathy Henley, I’ve had contact and been familiar with golden retrievers since I was very young. I wanted to have my own golden retriever dog for a long time, so after Shelly and I were married we added “Bailey” to our family within a few months. Jake joined us in Lubbock, Texas, a few years later. We had many wonderful years of shared life and love with both of those fantastic dogs.

As our girls, Sarah and Rachel, have grown older and become teenagers, I’ve been struck many times by the realization that our dogs’ unconditional love and constant availability as well as loving nature has been HUGE for their personal senses of joy, stability, safety, and happiness.

I have always loved our dogs and known they are extremely important members of our family, but seeing our daughters especially interact with Willow and Scarlet in the past few years my appreciation and thankfulness for them has grown even deeper. There is something absolutely wonderful, pure, and powerful about the love of a golden retriever that it brings tears to my eyes to consider and remember. The gift of a dog’s unconditional love is from the Lord. Our dogs literally “minister” to members of our family in times of need, especially. They “know” and can “sense” when we are troubled and upset. They offer themselves and their full attention to us at those times… not entirely selflessly, I would add… but powerfully none-the-less. (Willow in particular can lose interest in me quickly if I’m not giving her attention… but she comes to her role of “family love therapist” quite willingly and naturally despite this.)

I praise God and give him thanks for the abundant and limitless love which our dogs share with us, and have shared with us over the years. Never underestimate the importance and power of unconditional love and full attention. These are gifts we have the ability to give each other every day. It just so happens that some dogs, like golden retrievers, are genetically endowed by our Creator with this amazing capacity and desire.

Thank you, Lord, for golden retrievers.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

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Safety Tip When Paying with Plastic

Whenever you eat out at a restaurant or are using a plastic debit or credit card to pay for something, NEVER let the physical card out of your sight. Never let a server or business employee take your debit or credit card to another location out of your view, whether it’s the front of the restaurant where a cash register is located or to an undisclosed location in the back where they say they need to process it. The reason for this is simple: credit card “skimmers” cost less than $20 to purchase online at Amazon or via other retailers, and unscrupulous folks can scan your card in a matter of seconds when you’re not looking. In some cases, your debit or credit card may not be used immediately by someone else to rob you of funds, but rather is sold to a broker on the dark web where it’s then sold and traded to others for future use.

I’m more aware of the threat posed by credit card skimmers because I attended the Oklahoma Council of Educational Technology Leaders (OCETL) CTO Forum on 26 April 2019 in Moore, Oklahoma. We had a number of excellent speakers during this 1 day event, but the most hair-raising and attention getting presentations of the day were shared by Jonathan Kimmitt. Jonathan serves as the Chief Information Security Officer at the University of Tulsa, and has over 18 years of experience working as an information technology professional.

Just like using a password manager or turning on multi-factor authentication requires a MAJOR change in behavior and isn’t easy for any of us to start doing, making a conscious effort to NEVER let anyone else take your credit card out of your eyesight can be challenging. Many of us are so used to handing a server our credit card without thinking twice about it, that pausing to say, “I need you to run this card here at our table or come with you when you run it” requires both changing our THINKING and changing our BEHAVIOR. Yet this is exactly what we need to do. See the September 2005 article, “Skimming 101: How to spot it, avoid it, deal with it,” for more details on why you should always maintain eye contact with a credit card you’re using at a physical business location. The need to maintain eye contact with our debit and credit cards isn’t new (relatively speaking) the but importance of making this a habit IS bigger today, thanks to the prevalence of credit card skimmers as well as cybercrime more generally.

I shared all my notes from the April 2019 Oklahoma CTO Forum via Twitter, and collected them in a single “Twitter Moment.” If you are responsible for information security / network security / digital security in your organization, I highly recommend reading through this entire series of tweets. As more commerce and daily life becomes digitized, the prevalence of cybercrime will only increase. It pays to be informed and take proactive steps to protect yourself, your family, and your organization from others want to take your money and property.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Email Overload at School and Work

What are we going to do about email overload? It’s been a problem, it continues to be a problem, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to systemically improve anytime soon. As much as adults today like to comment about younger students, “They don’t check their email,” graduates of our schools continue to enter a workforce highly dependent on email because it’s a “common denominator” for internal as well as external communication. As educational leaders, what are we going to do about email overload individually and for our organizations?

I vividly remember a pre-Thanksgiving professional development workshop I led around 1998 for staff at Wheelock Elementary in Lubbock, Texas, in which I introduced most of our teachers to email for the first time and helped most setup their first Yahoo email accounts. Teachers were VERY excited to have an email account! I remember one in particular that was able to contact her son via email for the first time during our workshop. She was over the moon! Ah, the days of digital innocence when email was still exciting and viewed as a net-positive in our lives…


Game and innocence … flickr photo by Claudio Gennari …”Cogli l’attimo ferma il tempo” shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

That workshop took place before many things we take for granted in our lives and schools today in 2019. In 1998 we did NOT have:

  1. School-issued email accounts / addresses
  2. Laptop or classroom desktop computers for all faculty *
  3. Direct, high speed connections to the Internet in our classrooms
  4. Smartphones with email and Internet access in our pockets and purses
  5. Cellular text messaging
  6. VOIP telephones in our classrooms *

Today, however, most teachers and school classrooms have all of these things.* Many of our students also receive a school-issued email account. (Our students get a Google account in 1st grade, but don’t have email activated until 5th grade.) With so many ways to stay in touch and send/receive email, and with most parents connected via an email account, and with every company wanting to send emails about sales, coupons, new products, new workshops, etc… Email has become one of the most congested but still important communication channels in our lives. This has been a “mission creep” dynamic over many years, it did not happen all at once. Email has now become a primary vector for cyberattacks via phishing attacks against organizational networks and data systems. Amidst all these factors, I think it’s time we take a big picture look at email and make some changes, both personally and professionally, with and for our organizations.

One of the biggest things we need to stop doing is simply issuing email accounts and assuming employees or students can figure out how to efficiently and effectively manage messages. This is especially true in our era of email overload. How many “unread” email messages do you have in your school account? Your personal email account? As a GSuite administrator for our school, I wonder how many unread emails we have across our entire faculty and staff, and how that number has grown over the past few years? My guess is the number is exceptionally high, and it would shock many administrators to see those data trends in a line graph.

We also need to help our students learn to manage email effectively. As I develop curriculum for our required 5th and 6th grade digital literacy courses next year, email is one of the GSuite tools I’m including. These are some of the basic but important email management techniques as well as concepts I plan to introduce to students. These also should be taught explicitly to our staff members, as they come onboard as well as for existing staff:

  1. Skills:
    1. Gmail Labels
    1. Gmail Filters
    2. Gmail Contact Management
    3. Mark as Phishing or Spam
    4. Email Signature
    5. Vacation Responder
    6. Gmail Keyboard Shortcuts
    7. Turning off Google Hangouts / chat notifications
    8. Schedule Send
    9. Gmail Mobile App advantages
  2. Concepts:
    1. InBox Zero
    2. Archiving versus Deleting Email in GMail
    3. Email Expectations (choosing an appropriate communication modality)
    4. Email Retention (Gmail Vault and eDiscovery)

When I have built that portion of next year’s middle school digital literacy curriculum I’ll link it here. I’m not sure I’ll take this on for next year, but it I do think we should build in these email skills into an onboarding process for new faculty/staff. I’m likely going to draw on Google’s existing Applied Digital Skills curriculum in both cases.

What are you doing for your students as well as colleagues to address email overload and needed email management skills? Please comment below, reach out to me on Twitter @wfryer, or use my electronic contact form to send a message.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?