Have you ever, in the course of your humdrum day, accidentally replied all to an email, thereby spamming each and every one of your precious colleagues? Was it embarrassing? Were people mad? But let me ask you this: Did the recipients include all 100 United States Senators plus their staffs and committees? No? Then you’re not one of the many devoted public servants who—with a cascade of tiny finger slips—crashed email communications for the entire Senate earlier today. Mairéad Lynn, communications director for Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, was one of them. We spoke with her about this harrowing experience, which she said was actually not so embarrassing after all.
So, what exactly happened?
Okay, so, we do drills—like evacuation drills, fire drills, emergency preparedness drills. And one thing they’re doing—I think it’s a relatively a new protocol—is that we get an email that’s like, “emergency drill, blah, blah, blah.” But they ask you to please reply with your location. I guess, in theory, they’re supposed to be able to track us all and then make sure that people aren’t missing.
But we had a drill this morning and I went to the designated place you’re supposed to go. And I go in, and I’m on my phone, and I go to reply, and I hit reply with my location. And then as soon as I hit send, I get [an out-of-office message] bounce back from, like, someone else in another office.
And that’s when I was like, Oh my God, this just went to everyone in the Senate.
That’s horrifying. What did you do?
Well, I literally screamed in front of all of my coworkers. Because I knew that [our email] would melt down. I was also worried I was going to look like a rube. It’s not truly embarrassing, but it’s like—ah, you’re the idiot who can’t reply to the emails properly! But also, I knew I would not be the only person. There are so many people who work in the Senate—there’s no way I’m the only person who hit “reply all” instead of “reply.”
So, other people did it too?
Yeah, so just to be clear, I am not the only person who has done this. There are, like, hundreds of people. And it has slowed our entire email system down to a grinding halt.
The other problem is that every time someone replies all, you get this alert-from-the-system email, which means that every time someone replies all, we get two emails.
Plus I’m getting all the out-of-offices and “this email inbox is full” emails. But, like, hundreds. There are hundreds of emails. And there are a couple really funny ones, like someone literally just replied, “Please stop replying all.”
But replied all?
But replied all!
I feel like in every mass-reply-all situation you have that one “please stop replying all” guy. So we have him, too. We also had someone that said “please unsubscribe me from this list.”
And also replied all?
Yes. Plus, people have been reaching out and making fun of me for hitting “reply all.”
What are they saying?
Someone just replied, “Love this for you.” Just mocking me very lightly.
Do you know if you were the first reply all?
I don’t think that I was. I did not start this. I will die on that hill.
But I couldn’t really tell you, because people are getting emails at different times.
So what did all of this do to the Senate email?
Our email has been, like, fully melted down—it’s slow, people’s Outlooks aren’t working, people aren’t getting emails. Like, all day. And email is so slow that we’re still getting [accidental “reply all”] emails from the morning.
This does not seem like a good system!
Without knowing a ton about it, I would also agree. I mean, this is why we drill. Getting kinks out beforehand. But since these emails are coming in so slowly, I assume they can’t actually track our location successfully, right?
Wait, so is this the first time you’ve done this kind of drill, or is it like every time you do this drill there’s a “reply all” apocalypse?
Oh, no. This is the first time there’s been a “reply all” apocalypse. I don’t know what they did differently this time.
How many people do you think got your email?
I have no idea. There are 100 offices, plus committees with varying numbers of staff. We fill a good chunk of the Capitol, and then three entire buildings that are full of Senate employees. Thousands of people.
Is there anyone you’re embarrassed about seeing this email?
No, I think mostly because it wasn’t an embarrassing email that I sent. There are some Senators who have probably seen it. Hopefully most of them don’t know who I am or they’re ignoring their email today.
All-Senate “reply all” situations must happen a lot, though.
No, they don’t. That’s actually the crazy thing. I mean, I have worked here off and on since 2017, and I’ve literally never [seen one] before.
I just wanted to share with you that when I was typing your number into my phone, I realized at the end when I was looking for the “place call” button that I was typing it into my calculator app.
Oh, see? We all have our tech failures.
It’s never happened to me before. I don’t know what happened.
I think the anti-productivity Gods are out in full-force today. They want us to log off.
Okay, last question: Given that the “reply all” is an embarrassing thing to be known for, would you like to tell me about the initiative you once called “the height of your career”?
Yes. So, I work for a Pennsylvania Senator, but I am also a proud Pennsylvanian, born and raised outside of Philly. And we had a constituent call the Senator about an issue that he was passionate about, which was the number of dollar dog nights that the Phillies were hosting that year.
As a longtime dollar dog night fan—I’ve been going since I was in high school—we decided to show our support. And obviously, there’s no federal jurisdiction over dollar dog night, but we wanted to support it, and we ended up getting more dollar dog nights.
We try to help our constituents in any way we can.