I suspect that email encourages people to act insane.
Right this minute, you can create an email of unlimited length covering topics of unlimited scope and then send it to unlimited numbers of people — whom you may or may not even know — all at absolutely no cost to you. There is also no prohibition or boundary of any kind on how you phrase that email. There’s no formal penalty or even feedback for when you’re using email inappropriately (e.g. the dirty look that you’d get if you said something this weird to someone’s face). Plus, of course, YOU get to decide (at least in your own head) exactly how quickly all those people should be getting back to you about whatever it is you emailed them about. And you can do this pretty much any time you want and as many times a day as it suits you. No Limits.
As I say, there must be something about email’s unusual combination of intimacy and distance that can get people very emotionally engaged in hammering out demands in an email message. And not just flames — I’m talking about people whose de facto style is borne out of an uninhibited conduit between thoughts, emotions, or desires and the email medium that helps them convert that into some kind of request.
Email culture and etiquette — if there is such a thing — occurs when people have a sense of how their behavior will be seen and evaluated by anyone who is not themselves. The reason most of us wear pants to the grocery store is the same reason that some people think very hard about every word that goes into their email messages and what it will mean when people read them. They understand that the message should be more about the recipient than themselves. And the Great Ones will take the time to get the tone right too — to phrase things so that misunderstandings and unintentional emotional provocations don’t occur.
Here's the kicker (for which I'm finding application both within and beyond the confines of email):
Any system without scarcity or limitation will eventually suffer at the hands of people who aren’t overtly aware of boundaries — or who actively choose to break those boundaries because they can. Limitations in a communication medium not only make you think a little harder about what you have to say, they also encourage you to focus on what you and your recipient really need out of the exchange.
And for bonus points, a couple of comments to the post to which I found myself nodding vigorously: email insanity in church settings and the very depth of thoughtless unprofessionalism: too lazy to even use capital letters. It's good to know I'm not alone in thinking this is crazy and unnecessary.