December 1998
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Gregory Alkaitis-Carafelli

Baby, I don't want your number

Bring on the spam, because there is trouble here in River City -- that's right trouble -- starts with T which rhymes with P and that stands for personal. E-mail that is. Just like it's OK now to say penis and eat asparagus with your fingers at black-tie affairs, it's just fine to admit to yourself the truth: personal e-mail is a big hassle, and it's only getting worse. People were not meant to be brought closer by technology.

For proof, imagine you're me in this idyllic holiday scene: the screw top has been off the wine for a long time, people who shouldn't handle sharp objects because of their medication have been "helping" in the kitchen, some family members are dead or sleeping (it's hard to tell) in front of the endless drone of televised holiday sports: and in the middle of it all suddenly everyone begins exchanging e-mail addresses (when did my family all get e-mail!?) and promising to stay in touch daily.

A bit like Jenny, my e-mail address makes me too available; it's the 867-5309 for this decade: once people have your number there's no stopping them. How am I to keep up? Family members pester daily, school friends require replies, as do many other acquaintances digital and otherwise. Say what you will about spam, it makes no demands on your time. It does not require thought, emotional involvement, or even context. Pamela and her hot wet action, those great deals at ONSALE, offers to find people who don't want to be found (and you can mess with their credit rating too for just a few dollars more!) -- that stuff is great! Spam just is and it can be deleted, read or ignored, with no black spot of guilt on your coincidence.

But personal e-mail is never so glib. It's just frequent and vigorous, the digital equivalent of being outside in a rain of flaming telephone books and direct mail catalogues with a broken umbrella. I must steel my nerves prior to opening each and every message, usually for no good reason, but I do it still, only to lie exhausted in bed every night, completely spent. Instead of priority, I'd love my inbox to sort by guilt potential so that truly pressing mail can be dealt with properly. I just let it all sit anyway, but I'd feel a whole lot worse with a waving little red flag by each message, and maybe a custom whine sound to get me motivated to procrastinate, something like: "Whhhhhhy won't you taaaaalk to me?" Unlike spam, people require answers, lots of them, preferably right away, right from the heart, also only give good advice and be witty and sensitive too. This is a complex but still tolerable task to do once or twice, but e-mail is lightning quick: people have no idea of the speed at which they can mount repeat attacks, and eventually the red flags of guilt are out and waving like it's D-Day or worse; there are 600 unanswered messages from (probably now former) close friends and I'm up at 3 AM with a collection of little airplane-sized bottles of liquor and a bag of stale Doritos like in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," except I'm alone, not funny like Steve Martin, and there's nothing on television.

There is a reason the U.S. Postal Service is so slow: it's a defense mechanism, there to protect you like airbags save lives in head-on car collisions. Are there 600 unanswered letters waiting in your mailbox? Unless you're Craig Shergold, probably not. Like the brain, floating alone in its protective sea of fluid and membranes, letters have their own protective wrappings, dryer and more subtle but there nonetheless, disguised as the effort of putting pen to paper (not to mention finding pen, paper, and effort to start), the mailing, the waiting -- all of which keeps letters real, thoughtful, honest and most of all incoming at a reasonable rate.

So more spam! Send spam not letters if you must fill a need to e-mail. But if you're trying to reach me here in River City, I'll only talk to you by telephone. I think you know the number.



and such
and such

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