For weeks I’ve searched for a concise way of articulating my feelings on how the electronic era has changed our lives. Then it hit me.
In Sunday’s Parade Magazine, there’s a cartoon that shows a man at the computer, asking his wife, “What’s the point of having an opinion if you don’t email it to everyone you know?”
Now that was perfect: We must share, but if there’s no one to receive the message, what’s the point?
It’s like the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? A slightly modernized feminist version of that asks, “If a man says something and there’s no woman around to hear it, is the man still wrong?”
But that’s a topic for another column. Let’s stick to emails. Back in the days when we actually had to pay postage to send things off, people were much more parsimonious on matters for distribution. Today, when you figure the ridiculously cheap cost of forwarding something — electronically, to large numbers of people — that makes such a communication a bargain. But at the same time it cheapens the product when everyone else has received the same thing.
For example, a few years ago, a friend forwarded me an email containing the many permutations of the simple word “up.” The email mentioned one can beat up, get up, ‘fess up, throw up, finish up, etc., without “up” necessarily indicating a direction.
Though I’m appreciative of any email I get, that is intended to provide material for this column, I admit that same email keeps flowing this way. I estimate I’ve received that communication 30 times, and each time I thank the sender and try to explain I used the idea on Dec. 1, 2005.
Rapid exchange of emails aside, there are those whose compulsion to forward material amazes me. One person, a teacher from Deming, once forwarded me (and about a zillion others) a “revised” constitution whose main theme was for “illegals to go back where they came from.” It was written by a southern legislator and repeated the theme that “English is what we speak in the U.S. of A.”
I believe the sender owes her job to the fact that almost all of her students “came from” Mexico. Writing back to ask about the apparent contradiction, I got her assertion that “I hardly ever even read the emails; I just forward them because I think they’re funny.” I suddenly got removed from her list.
A former public figure from this area used the same excuse: I didn’t write the thing, just forwarded it. That offensive email, highly critical of then-candidate Barack Obama, referred not to his policies, party or beliefs but to the color of his skin.
And so it goes that many people don’t hesitate to send emails to others but feign ignorance as to the content. “I didn’t actually write it; I merely sent it off.” Yeah, right.
A particularly noxious email arrived recently from someone way up the email pyramid, fulminating against groups who happen to think for themselves.
The original sender declared, “If I receive this email 100 times, I will forward it 100 times.”
Well, good, kind sir, but what’ll that accomplish? The email declares that, “For those of you who choose to dismiss this: If you believe that this is okay I believe you are a traitor to this country and everything it stands for.”
So I didn’t forward that hot-button email. Now suddenly such action has become treasonous? When did the mere advent of the Internet (and other means of rapid communication) become matters of national security?
• • •
Emails of a slightly different tenor arrive with amazing frequency. These are the promises-and-threats variety that implore us to “forward this email to 20 people” and if you do, you will become rich.
If you don’t, well, just remember what happened to that man who broke the chain. And sometimes it’s hard to distinguish coincidence from cause and effect. True, my pet centipede, which I kept on a leash, got bisected going through a high-rise elevator — after I broke the chain, but that might have been mere coincidence.
A very recent email even provides a menu, essentially promising the granting of a wish depending on the number of people we send it to and the celerity with which we perform the deed.
Here’s an example:
Forward the email to one person and your wish is answered in one year. Wish to speed up the process? Six people guarantee you good luck in just one month; nine people: five days; 20 people: three hours.
It’d be foolhardy not to take the final, express lane offer.
I did. However, one of the addresses must have bounced, as I didn’t get my first wish, which was to rank third in wealth, just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
The consolation prize came in instead; that was to have Katherine Zeta Jones appear in my dream.
But now, my wife is planning to send an email to Katherine Zeta Jones, warning her to stay out of my dreams.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.