Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Looking forward to the end of forwarding

All of us were at one time new to the wonders of email and the Internet. Some of you are still in that stage of your development. However, at some point, you really need to adopt the following attitude about it: It sucks just as much as everything else.

If you are not yet jaded about it, the rest of us have a simple request: Please hurry up and get so. The only reason we haven’t complained yet is we know you don’t mean to be this annoying, but that’s only going to get you so far. We already among the jaded can be annoying in our tone of superiority, as we insulate ourselves in the belief that halfway into the first decade of the 21st century that the novelty of this should have worn off, and that everyone should be well accustomed to email and the Internet, and that everyone should know better. Then we get an email forwarded from you and we must take that deep breath, refrain from lambasting you with an acrimonious reply, and remind ourselves that a long time ago we too were that naïve. However, we tend to just delete the message because we have grown weary of seeming like the asshole in the scenario.

It comes down to this: Everyone is full of shit. Me, you, everybody. That’s not a criticism; I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with that, just you really should have figured that much out by now. Nonetheless, we all need to believe something is true, so some of the bullshit we accept as fact because it doesn’t contrast with what makes us happy, or because we don’t feel like explaining why we don’t believe it so it’s easier to go along. However, that works best with things like gravity—we haven’t invested the time to disprove them, and it probably doesn’t work in our favor to disbelieve it, as we have nothing to gain by suddenly having no force keeping us grounded and being flung into the vacuum of space. Unless we have the corresponding belief that we can breathe in outer space just fine, or that outer space doesn’t exist either.

The trick is not so much going along with the common beliefs of science but taking the easy way out; it’s quite a task to construct a complete, integrated reality that is internally consistent.

Getting back to email and the Internet: Perhaps nowhere else these days is it more true that everyone is full of shit than on the Information Superhighway. The trouble is there’s no policing agent to stop someone from putting his or her bullshit on the Internet, but those people must at least find some website for that; there’s some modicum of effort involved. It’s not that difficult as it used to be, but it carries with it the implication of having had to take some time to get it out there. (Yes, I know some of you are thinking it an attempt at irony here on my part, which it would be except I already admitted several paragraphs back that I don’t consider this other than my bullshit, so while I have undoubtedly been ironic at times, this is not one of them.)

More important, accessing something on the ‘net requires the effort on the reader’s part to leave their email and bring up a browser window. (If my personal experience is any barometer, that’s more than many people are willing to do.) Email seems more personal because it came specifically to you; you feel some compulsion to read it on that basis. You’ll get over that.

The jaded know well the trouble with email is that it’s worse: not only is there similarly no guard, but you merely needs online access and to have somehow acquired the email addresses of others. It doesn’t even take much time and only the most liberal interpretation of the term “effort” to click the Forward button and add others from one’s address book. And because you’re still of the opinion that it’s keen to pass along these jokes or inspirational messages or virus warnings, you do so to everyone.

We the jaded are not lacking in sense of humor, nor are we are necessarily atheists, nor are we blithely unconcerned about viruses. We are, however, not all the same in what we find funny or inspirational, and we don’t find out about viruses through a method that is known for spreading them.

We realize you lack the sense of scope of things and you don’t realize that more than likely we have not only already seen it but that we have received it from many of you, on several occasions. (And it wasn’t particularly amusing the first time.) We have no choice but to concede that there’s no way you’ll verify the facts in whatever you’re forwarding before you click the Send button. We know you still lack some standard for discriminating what is not worth forwarding. We chuckle at how you thought the text with the most egregious spelling and grammatical errors was something others needed to see (the humor is sucked out when we know the difference between “there” and “they’re” and “their”—what we thinking by paying attention in junior high school?)

We have long since abandoned the hope that you might compose something yourself, or at least added some personal message to what you were forwarding; we know you’re worried we’ll think poorly of you if your writing skills aren’t up to whatever passes for snuff. Allow me to let you in on a secret: We kind of think poorly of you for having forwarded it in the first place (yes, kids, that is irony); if you wrote something along with it, that would only improve your standing, no matter how clichéd or unoriginal. It would prove that you put some modicum of thought into your actions, and that would mean you were capable of thought, and that would mean you were on your way to joining the ranks of the jaded.

Okay, this is the point where you get all up in arms about the suggestion that you weren’t thinking of us when you forwarded it. Go ahead. We understand you need to be upset about it. We don’t agree, but we understand how you think you were thinking of us. Yes, yes, we understand how you think you’re too busy (or, as it would be in the message you forwarded, “…how you think your to busy”) to write something about yourself, or that you don’t think it would be enough to simply create a new email and say “Just wanted to let you know I thought of you today.” Allow me to make it clear: You’re right, in that it wouldn’t be enough, but still it would be a dramatic improvement over what you’re doing.

We’re not expecting you to review any rules of email etiquette; even we didn’t do that. We learned these things the hard way, by making many of these same mistakes ourselves. However, the point there is that we learned them, and much like how no one is more bothered by someone smoking than an ex-smoker, we’re getting a little weary of how you seem to be lingering in your ignorance. We really don’t mean to seem hypocritical, but, come on. We’ve been patient. It may not seem like we have, but trust us: we have.

We don’t expect you to change overnight. We wouldn’t presume to be so arrogant as to tell you how to conduct yourself; the liability of freedom is also its strength. (Hey, notice how there’s no apostrophe in “its”? That’s because it’s possessive, not the contraction of “it is”—admit it, you thought I’d screwed up there for just a second, didn’t you? It’s okay. You’ve been exposed to too many erroneous emails.) You have the power to do whatever you want. All we ask is that, at some point, if it’s not too much trouble, you start contemplating whether blithely forwarding emails is what you want, whether it achieves what you really want to accomplish.

We know if we ask you to leave us out of your list of recipients you’ll interpret that as some indication that we don’t like you. It does not mean that we don’t like you; it means we don’t like what you’re doing. We may or may not have actually liked you before you started forwarding the emails, but that’s beside the point. If you have constructed your reality around the belief that we like you, that’s fine with us. It is merely in your best interest to wise up so that we don’t have to reply in a way that disrupts your reality.

At some point you’ll learn how to copy the url from the address line so if you find something you wish to share you can at least point your victims—err, recipients—to the original text. Which they can then choose to integrate into their beliefs or dismiss—unless they feel like going along with it out of laziness, which is, of course, their choice. And when we receive the email, having been bcc’ed, we will know you are on your way, Grasshopper.

In the interest of full disclosure, I fully admit that I don’t know whether there is a group of the jaded out there beyond myself, and that it was completely inappropriate of me to use “we” throughout this piece. Apologies to the jaded, if you exist, for purporting to represent you. That is merely me confirming how full of shit I am, but at least I stand by my bullshit. That’s the reality I built for myself, for better or for worse. A story for another time…

(I know I don’t have to ask you to refrain from copying this and pasting it into an email. This is way too long for that. And I’ve used the potentially offensive term “shit” several times. And really, who the heck would believe George Carlin wrote this?)

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