I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing on an e-mail guaranteed to send my finger flying for the delete button faster than anything, it’s: “You must read this”.
Why? Who says I must? Has some law been passed that random unsolicited messages now have to be read straight away on pain of death? And why are you incapable of giving me an actual reason why I must suddenly drop everything and do what you say?
And I’m sorry, but no – “you must read this, it’s amazing” doesn’t count. For all I know you may think the news that Sharon “got off” with Kevin on Saturday night is “amazing” – “izzit” – but frankly I couldn’t give a stuff.
So why does the idle whim of some complete stranger, probably in another part of the globe entirely, in fact most likely somewhere in America, suddenly get the authority to demand my undivided attention, and dictate what I should and shouldn’t read?
Because let’s be honest – what we’re talking about in your “amazing” “must-read” message aren’t even your own thoughts, are they?
No. You’ve passed it on to me, because it’s been passed on to you – and you and whoever sent it share this untreatable urge to inflict this stuff on every poor sap in your entire address books.
Well it is treatable, actually. Nip round to the person who sent it to you and pull the plug out of their computer when they’re not looking. I can’t pretend it’s a permanent solution, but it will make you feel better in the short term.
Because it only takes one person in an address book to forward the thing to everybody in their address book, and suddenly, as computer addicts love to say, it’s migrating its way across the world.
In fact, it probably originated from some little old lady from Pasadena – or worse still, some racist from Alabama pretending to be a little old lady from Pasadena.
And they make some caustic political statement, or a terribly non-PC racist joke, dressed up as an e-mail funny, and send it off to everyone they know of.
And while most people will groan and press delete, there’s always one, isn’t there, who thinks: “I agree with that! And by golly, I’m going to send that to everyone I know!” How lovely. Thanks for sharing. Not.
But, that’s the marvel of modern communication, isn’t it? Because let’s be honest, if every self-appointed upholder of moral values, opinionated bore or simple crackpot had to sit down and copy out that number of letters, and put that number of stamps on that number of envelopes, then you and I wouldn’t have to suffer their political views disguised as humour, now would we?
That’s the trouble. Communication has become much easier – but it’s become devalued, too. People can do things on a whim, with scarcely more than a moment’s thought. And that’s exactly what they do.
Social networking and electronic communication is a brilliant tool ... but sadly it’s also virtually unstoppable.
Mind you, paper-savers often put the message: “Do you really need to print this e-mail?” on the bottom of messages. Is there any chance we could have: “Do you really need to forward this ****?” there too?