Ode to Email

I am old enough to remember when email became a big thing and people began to lament the days of letter writing and the use of a pen or pencil. There was something much more personal about a handwritten letter … the time put into writing, the individual styles of crossing a ‘t’ or dotting an ‘i’, the crossed out mistakes and the misspelled words. Email came along, and paper seemed such a waste; everyone wrote in Times New Roman; spell check solved many issues; and postage stamps became less of a necessity. The only real thing that made email particular to an individual was bad grammar.

“Ah, yes … this one was definitely sent from Bob. He never could use his participles or prepositions correctly!”

But the times, they are a changin’ again, and email seems to be gasping for air these days. Outside of spam mail (which, unfortunately, seems to just keep thriving), the majority of email I receive now is either work related or from one of the multiple social network sites that send me email to tell me I have a new message or comment or something in my account on their site. And it is this that has grasped the neck of the personal email and is steadily applying increasing pressure day by day, slowly cutting off the supply of oxygen and making poor email blue in the face.

In general, I am quite opposed to social networking sites. Mostly because they are usually just so damned silly and cheesy. MySpace has probably one of the worst layouts anyone can imagine. It looks like a child’s cut and paste collage project gone wrong. Put a background here, glue a profile picture there and presto! Instant website! I also really hate the fact that many people put some damn song on their page that starts up without my asking it to. When I’m surfing the web, I usually like to have some music going on in the background (listening to a bit of Skinny Puppy as I write this), but then, as soon as I land on a friend’s MySpace page to find out what’s new in their life (because they no longer email me to say “Hi, how’s things? Not too bad here. I just wrote to say I contracted syphilis this week”), I get the horrendous sounds of some long forgotten, inside joke song cutting through my speakers over the top of the music I had chosen for myself and was enjoying. Nothing is more annoying than having “Ice Ice Baby” or “Achy Breaky Heart” spoil a good Gothic industrial tune! I didn’t want to hear this, and now it’s stuck in my head all day! Damn you! There are options to let the person visiting the page turn the song on if they want to hear it, please don’t force me to listen to this! MySpace also has a section for “bulletin” announcements. Basically, it’s a way to spam all your friends and contacts at one time, though most of my friends seem to use it to send surveys out to everyone. “What are your first memories?”; “Top 45 foods”; “How incontinent are you?”; “If you were a vegetable, which one would you be?”. Now, I will admit that some of these can be a bit informative, and you can learn something about an old schoolmate that you never knew before … maybe they once had a crush on you … maybe they were cheating on you during the time they were supposedly dating you in high school … maybe they secretly sacrificed llamas to the sun god and drank the blood of squirrels before they found Christianity (now they only sacrifice heathens and drink the blood of Jesus); but most of the time you only discover what kind of food the person had for lunch or which person they hugged last. Not really the type of thing that would come up in a normal conversation under any circumstance. It is also the frequency of these surveys that astound me. If I answered ever survey that was sent out, I wouldn’t have the time of day to even make it to the toilet!

Facebook is another one I am unfortunately a member of. Now, where the layout seems much more thought out and professional looking, there have come to be all these strange “applications” that you can add to your page. There are a few that may be useful or informative, such as maps showing where you have travelled (for those of us that like to brag) or your recommendations to others for books or music. But Facebook has gone silly with things like “Food Fight” (where you ‘throw’ virtual food products at each other), “Aquarium” (um, the fish don’t even move), “Booze Mail” (ok, I want a real drink, not a cartoon drawing of one) and the number one bizarre application: “Skid Marks” (you can have a pair of shit-stained, white y-fronts dishing out Confucius-like knowledge on your profile page). There is also something that is called “Poke” or even “Super Poke” that sends messages to your chosen contact like “Neil has poked you” or “You have been chest bumped by Theodore”. Well, I’m sorry … I don’t want Neil, or anyone else for that matter, to poke me. That’s annoying! And I have never ever chest bumped anyone in my life. Always seemed a bit too much of a frat boy to me, so why would I rub my pecs up against someone else? Facebook has taken a huge slide into the reeking sewers of the world in my mind.

There are also plenty of others out there that I am sure are quite the same: Friendster, Bebo, Multiply … and the list goes on. I cannot deny that there is some good in social networking sites, though. I have regained contact with many long lost friends from high school and from my travels, and I have been able to promote the music I play (whether my own or with the band Gasoline), and many of these sites make it easier for me to store photos that may be of relevance to friends (those snaps from the time you worked together in Abu-Dhabi as toilet cleaners) or family (cute photos of your sprog eating cat food and spitting up all over the jumper that your gran sent over as a birthday present) at no charge.

But an unfortunate side is that in most cases, this is now the only way I can keep in contact with my many of my friends as most of them only chat through these sites, and everyone has their own particular network they use, so you end up having to sign up for all of them. I have an account with 3 or 4 right now, and most of them have the same repeated pictures or information on them. Every day, it takes about 30 minutes to an hour to check them all, reply to any messages or comments that need an urgent reply or to nose about that old friend’s site that you have recently reconnected with.

I guess it is still quicker than writing and posting a letter … or sending an email.