My use of electronic mail began over 15 years ago, with the client being Dartmouth College’s BlitzMail interface. This was back in the days when the word Internet was not frequently used, but terms like Gopher, Hyperstack, and NCSA were. As someone who even then enjoyed written communication, this was an endearing, even giddy novelty. Interestingly, 90% of the people I initially exchanged “Blitzes” with were classmates I sat in lecture halls with for four or more hours a day, but then friends at other schools and workplaces started getting e-mail accounts of their own, and the race was on.
In these pre-spam salad days I would guess that 90% of what I got was of at least passing interest. The exceptions were mostly not-so-elaborate jokes dispatched by people to 1,001 recipients at a time; these became especially banal when they began recirculating at a dismaying clip, with the jokesters remaining stoically unaware that they were firing off yuk-yuks that most people had first read during the Nixon administration..
I’d say the my enjoyment of e-mail usage peaked in about 1998. By this time virtually all of my friends were online, so I not only continued to receive almost exclusively relevant e-mail, but I got a lot of it. But it wasn’t long afterward that spam started to appear, first in trickles and then in torrents. It would be some time before spam filters became sophisticated enough to shunt this shit into the trash can or into a designated toilet folder, so I was soon getting more spam than genuine e-mail despite the fact that the overall output of spam was nowhere close to what it is today.
In the early portion of the the millennium I moved to Virginia and began creeping toward lonerhood. In this period, deprived of frequent contact with friends back in New England, e-mail became an important means of both keeping in touch with homies about matters of importance and gaining a lift in mood from basic bantering. (I didn’t cave in and get a cell phone until 2004.) This didn’t mean I hadn’t launched my career as a professional time-waster and layabout, but I wasn’t nearly as bad about such things as I am now–or if I was, it didn’t bother me.
At some indistinct point I started to get more trash than gold, and I don’t mean spam, I mean stuff from complete strangers soliciting running advice at eyebrow-raising length or offering bizarre suck-ups (or criticisms) for something I’d written on a message board. The silver lining in the especially annoying ones is that I could trash them without guilt, but I’ve always hated getting something truly well-meaning and shitcanning it. This is unwarranted, because people do it all the time. But my OCD-like tendencies compel me to respond to each and every point the other person raises even when this is clearly not expected, which in turn frustrates me because of the amount of wasted time involved in such exercises.
Then of course are the colossal, death-spiral accusation and insult wars with ex-girlfriends and members of that charming extended family. Given my penchant for running on at the keyboard endlessly, these can grow to absurd lengths when faced with a respondent who is similarly verbose. I have on my hard drive an epic battle that unfolded over a period of a couple of days. It consumes 33 pages of a rich-text document (size 10 Arial font) and is as mesmerizing as it is pathetic. Obviously, given my capacity to foster resentments and annoy people, this is not the only example, only the most bloated.
There’s no reason I should get a lot of e-mail that is not strictly personal, because to put it bluntly I do nothing productive with my life. An exception is the messages I get from the cadre of marathon runners I coach by e-mail and phone. Those I don’t mind answering because people are paying for the dubious privilege of getting advice from me. But these admittedly become difficult to keep up with and properly sort through given the amount of unsolicited stuff I get from runners I’ve never met and never will, and both sorts of missives make it harder to keep up with howyadoin stuff from actual friends that would otherwise not be annoying.
I also have to take responsibility for inviting a lot of troubling material, because occasionally I’ll post something publicly that suggests I’m about to blow my head off and as a result can’t really fault those who send concerned inquiries in the aftermath, unless they are morons or strangers. In a related vein, I’ve always hated it when I stop blogging for four or five days for some innocuous reason, or perhaps by design, and start getting shit from people who figured I’d been run over by a train or something; this is what happens when one typically makes four or five posts a day, because it raises people’s expectations of how much output they can expect. But considering 90% of what I have ever written online is profoundly irrelevant and now at all contributory to either humanity’s body of knowledge or its sources of entertainment, I can’t sympathize too strongly with these fuckers either.
Finally, there’s no question that my global dissatisfaction with life and consequent lassitude has me loathing online communication and resenting the fact that anyone wants to talk to me at all, from friends and family to cranks, illiterates, prickly exes, and former classmates who have tracked me down to hector me about my comings and goings, the latter being things I for obvious reasons and not inclined to discuss. If I were not such a torpid and unhappy individual I doubt I’d blink at even the most obnoxious e-mails.
Anyway, I retired my Facebook account for a while and iced a blog I’d been keeping for about a month and a half describing my various forays into dysfunction, so even though I will remain unproductive, I at least may not have to answer as much for it. And because I plan to make every post I contribute here as negative as possible, there’s only so much time I can waste here, because I often wear even myself out.
Now all you clever bastards can go ahead send me deadpan e-mails asking me dozens of questions about why I wrote this–I promise not to catch on.