[Reader-list] Destruction by e-mail

Harsh Kapoor aiindex at mnet.fr
Wed Dec 12 23:02:02 IST 2001

The Hindu
Sunday, Dec 09, 2001

Destruction by e-mail


THERE is no dearth of weighty subjects to discuss this week - 
Prevention Of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO), Enron or even the Mike 
Denness affair. However, I prefer to write on a subject that seems 
better suited for a Sunday morning: e-mail. But make no mistake - 
e-mail could well become a life or death issue. It is already ruling, 
I am sure, the lives of millions of people around the world. And this 
is the story of the oppression of one man's life by the "killer 
application" of the late 20th Century.

I know all the arguments about the power of e-mail. It is 
instantaneous, it is inexpensive, it makes the world smaller and, as 
a colleague somewhat enthusiastically said, it is an instrument of 
democracy as well. Personally, my work requires me to collect 
information quickly. What better tool than e-mail? I am supposed to 
keep abreast of things happening around the world. What better tool 
for this as well? And there is the bonus of keeping in touch with 
family, with friends from half way across the world, not to mention 
being informed by electronic newsletters about what is new in films, 
books and everything that can be digitised. You can add a hundred 
more advantages to e-mail. Yet ...

Some months ago I realised that days would pass without my putting 
pen to paper. I was too busy hitting the keyboard. I found that in 
the process my handwriting had become unrecognisable.

Last week I found I had gone one step further down the road of 
"destruction by e-mail". At the end of the day I realised I had not, 
barring the morning's papers, read print on paper all day. My 
conversion to some kind of electronic zombie was complete.

E-mail has become both an addiction and a terror. Every morning I 
look forward with a great deal of anticipation to that thin blue 
strip of incoming mail (I am a Eudora man, which besides being my 
protest against Microsoft, is also my protection against all those 
viruses written for Outlook.) But once the messages descend I remain 
overwhelmed by the avalanche of letters, information, bulletins and, 
of course, junk email. Petrified is the best description.

My attempt at e-mail management has failed. I have half-a-dozen 
addresses, which I juggle, to keep work separate from friends, 
friends from interests and interests from cranks. But one inevitably 
overlaps another. Innumerable messages are stored to be read another 
day (never); many more are trashed; groups, which I don't want to be 
members of, put me on their lists and all of them copy their 
correspondence to me as well. (One e-mail address is for readers of 
this column who would like to write in. But besides the interesting 
writers there are also the cranks. I have been sent a quotation for 
cement machinery another for a consignment of chocolates. And I have 
been put on the distribution list of a group of "international 
rationalists". I can only count myself lucky that the mailers of 
jokes and pornography sites have spared me the blushes.)

I have tried to apply a single test to the utility of e-mail. With 
that mountain of up to date information that it delivers, has the 
quality of my work improved? An honest answer comparing B.E. with 
S.E. will be "not really". Or rather, it has not been worth the 
effort wading through all those reams of bits and bytes.

Yet, I remain an addict. If I do not access my e-mail for even a day, 
my fingers start itching for the keyboard. And like an addict I 
cannot imagine a life without e-mail. I recently read a piece by a 
U.S. editor of no less a publication than a technology weekly 
announcing that he was pulling the plug on all his e-mail addresses.

I wish I could "de-toxify" myself from e-mail in a similar manner. 
Instead, I have unfortunately now started discovering the wonders of 
Short Messaging Service (SMS).

E-mail the writer at crr100 at india.com

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