Sunday, January 30, 2005

If an e-mail is sent in the forest and there's no one there to read it, does it make a sound?

If you've followed my previous blogs (and very few of you have), you know I think epinions.com is the devil and the telephone is satan. Then it should not come as any suprise to you that I think e-mail is evil incarnate.

Okay, put aside the fact that it is a souless tool, fraught with misinterpretation and unintended inuendo. Put aside the fact that it allows anyone with computer access to fire off endless junk mail begging you to buy non-existent perscription or send your bank account information to Nigeria. And put aside the fact that hackers (may they rot in hell) have made every e-mail you get, even if it is from your Aunt Sally, a potential letter bomb that can wipe out your entire computer.

All of that aside, and e-mail still sucks. Because in my experience, what should have been a boon to staying in touch has created new barriers that make reaching out and touching someone (figuratively) that was a friend or relative akin to a wave to that neighbor two doors down that you've never talked to. People these days treat e-mails from friends with a shrug and grunt and then move with whatever they were doing.

E-mail is a message, my friends. Unless it asking you to refinance or avoid embarrassing moments by ordering Viagra, it bears a response.

In the past, you could write a letter, pop it into the mail and assume you'd get a response. If you didn't, it was safe to assume some disgruntled postal worker had mangled it and tossed it into the shredder. With today's e-mail, you can ask for a receipt when a note is delivered and another when it is open and presumebly read. So when you write someone and they don't respond, you have to assume they don't give a rat's behind.

Case in point: I have a former friend I'd known since I was 16. Even when we both left Boise and went separate ways, we managed to stay in touch. When she got married in England 12 years ago, I was one of the only people from the states that went to her wedding. Okay, we communicated sporatically after that. She and her husband ended up in Montana. She became a college librarian. He taught English or film theory at the same college (I assume). I hadn't heard from them much in the past 5 years or so. But with the marvel of the Internet I was able to find her e-mail address a couple of years ago. I sent a note asking how she was. She responded with a few short lines. We exchanged e-mails a couple more times and then I didn't hear anything else.

So, in the past couple of weeks I happily sent out e-mails to friends announcing my engagement. I sent one to my friend in Montana. I heard nothing. So I assumed I had an old e-mail address. I double-checked and sent another e-mail with the return receipt option checked. Sure enough the e-mail was received and opened. I waited patiently for a reply, anything. Nothing. No "good to hear from you," no "congratulations," no "don't contact me again." And I haven't a clue why. We never had a falling out as friends. We don't even live in the same state, so I'm not sure how I could have offended her.

If this was an isolated incident, I'd write it off. But this happens all of the time, even with my family. I send e-mails to my brother, my nephews, my niece and I rarely get a response. I sent an e-mail to my nephew who got married in Las Vegas last spring telling him about my engagement and didn't hear a peep (likely because he thinks the government reads all of our e-mail...perhaps they are sending their bank account information to Nigeria as we speak).

The evil of e-mail is that is that it is forging a self-absorbed society that can't even type two lines of text and hit the send button because that would require thought and motivation. We are a society surrounded by so many instant communication methods that we have become numb to real communication. The telephone made us a disembodied voice, void of emotion. E-mail takes away the voice and turns even personal communication into mindless, electronic junk.

That's how I feel about it. Got a problem with that? Here's a quarter, e-mail someone who cares.


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