Tuesday, January 31, 2006

You've got mail

It occurs to me today that marriage (or indeed any other long-term relationship) is like an exchange of e-mails where both people keep hitting reply. The kind of e-mail that takes up so much space in your inbox that you assume that there must be an attachment, but in fact it's nothing more than an accumulation of words, of messages no longer relevant or even legible. The kind of e-mail whose subject line is a long string of 'Re:' s followed by some obscure phrase that no longer makes sense to you because you no longer remember how all this started. The kind of e-mail where you just glance through the current message and never bother to scroll down.

Why do people do this, I wonder? Is it just the convenience of hitting that 'reply' button, the fear of not being able to find the other person in the address book of your feelings, of typing in their address from memory and getting it wrong? Or is it that we fondly imagine that by always pressing reply we are preserving, somehow, the memory of our conversations, so that all you have to do is go to the bottom of the page and scroll up and it'll all make sense again? Is it perhaps the blank page that each new message represents that frightens us? Is it just habit? Or, most insidious of all, do we feel that by being the one to break off the chain of replies, by being the one to press 'New' and start afresh, we may be showing the other person up, betraying them somehow?

Perhaps it's just that this sort of carelessness is a celebration of how large our inboxes have grown, a way of flaunting our capacity, a way of filling what would otherwise be so much empty cyber space. Is it the people who receive few messages who are more likely to do this, or is precisely the one who have many, many friends who cannot be bothered to craft a fresh mail for each one? I wonder.

Day by day, as this exchange progresses our inboxes get more crowded, our conversations longer and more obscure, more distant from their original purpose. Feelings are measured by weight and not by texture, messages by the MBs they take up and not by their intelligence. Language becomes landfill.

Next time, hit 'Compose'


[1] Speaking of mail, have you noticed how both Yahoo and Gmail say 'Compose Mail' as opposed to simply 'New Message'? What's the deal with that? Am I not allowed to send wild or frivolous mails - do they need to be all composed and proper. Or are my mails supposed to be like music now? Subject: What's up? in E minor.

[2] How does this e-mail capacity racket work anyway? Does anyone know? Is it like banking, where they essentially keep some amount of actual capacity on hand and promise way more to each subscriber on the assumption that not everyone will want to use their full 1 GB quota? Could one launch a run on Yahoo, for instance?



Cheshire Cat said...

That accumulation is all there is. What else could there be? The original purpose is forgotten because that is precisely what was purposed.

Language is just something with which to measure the world.

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