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Listservs and the "Unsubscribe me" Meme
September 13, 2011 - 8:45pm

Initially, this post was going to be titled: "If you've ever sent "unsubscribe" to a listserv, please break the glass and read this post immediately." Unfortunately, that many words won't fit in our blog headers. Alternatively, I was debating whether or not I should include lemmings somewhere in this post as it seemed rather apropos. If you haven't already guessed, this post is all about listservs. While not a how-to per se, I have decided to write up a short treatise on that which seems to elude most listserv subscribers: the simple act of unsubscribing from a listserv.

Let's begin. Perhaps you received an email forward from a friend. Said email originated from a listserv. Thinking that you could bypass your friend's emails, and become a participant on the list, you sign up and begin receiving messages. It was so easy to sign-up, wasn't it?

This is where things go horribly wrong. When you received your introductory listserv email welcoming your presence on the list, you ignored most of what it said. Yes, you did. It's okay. I've been there. However, hidden in that first email is your set of instructions for how to leave the list. Think of it this way: You are the Greatest American Hero and you've just deleted the instruction manual for your suit.

After reading all of the listserv emails over the summer, something inevitably happens...the Fall term commences. Your free, email-reading time is reduced to -20 (yes, a negative amount of time, that's how bad it gets sometimes). And then, someone sends out a message that just one single person doesn't want to read. So they then do the unconscionable act of replying with "UNSUBSCRIBE."

250 emails later, the listserv has erupted with a rash of messages that look something like this (these are actual examples from a recent list meltdown):

  • "UNSUBSCRIBE" - Easily the most popular response. Sometimes in the subject. Sometimes in the body. Sometimes in both the subject and the body. All caps are added for emphasis.
  • "Please remove..sent from my iPhone" - I get it, you're on a mobile device. Thanks.
  • "Please remove me also from this list." - The listserv elves must have removed other people from the list.
  • "PLEASE remove me from this ********** list!" - Naming the list in your message...at least they knew what the list was called.
  • "AGAIN, PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM THE LIST!!!!!!" - Multiple exclamation points will surely cause the emails to stop.
  • "whatever this is PLEASE remove me from it tooopleaseeee way out of hand now tyty" - I love how some people (in this case, a list full of professionals and faculty members) like to build a bonfire and add more fuel to the pyre.
  • "Please remove me from this listserve! I have been inundated with e-mails from others also trying to unsubscribe." - Please turn in your drivers license. Clearly you shouldn't be allowed to operate a motor vehicle and you are banned from using email for a lifetime.

Please note that I love email. However, if you sign up for a listserv, please learn how to operate it before you join the community. The "unsubscribe me" meme is a waste of time and a productivity killer. How many times does this have to happen? Please do all of us a small favor, pay it forward if you will...NEVER EVER RESPOND TO A LISTSERV WITH UNSUBSCRIBE. Thanks!

I think in the future, in addition to Googling a potential hire, I'm also going to check if they have ever sent "unsubscribe" to a listserv.

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