Nothing rattles my hard drive like finding a bucket of junk in my email basket. What is it about cyber-mail that makes perfectly sane people spam their friends and co-workers with information they would never even consider putting a stamp on?
Don’t get me wrong. I love email. As a writer, I can’t imagine my life without it. But shouldn’t we exercise the same etiquette in this correspondence medium as we do in regular snail-mail?
I ask myself…why would intelligent, professional and otherwise reasonable people, think nothing of forwarding bad jokes, threatening chain letters and inspirational mush to an entire personal address book? Imagine the effects on productivity in the workplace and the frustration of any busy email user, who has to weed through the milieu of mischief to get to the important stuff.
And we seniors are often the biggest offenders. Many aging boomers have computers, but don’t have a clue what to do with them other than send jokes around the globe. And while some of that is fine, most of it isn’t.
I find the chain letters particularly obnoxious because they usually have a menacing tone that warns me about the consequences, if I fail to forward the message on to another twenty or more people. And, if that’s not bad enough, the sender usually wants the letter boomeranged back again from everyone, just for good luck!
Especially egregious are those messages I receive that are passed on from one entire list of unfortunate recipients to another, without even so much as a personal word from the sender. I can immediately recognize these messages in my mailbox by the FW: FW: FW: in the subject line. As the email messages get passed along from one person to the next, they connect and re-connect ad infinitum, like cyber-batons in a relentless relay race.
There are many filtering systems that work effectively to prevent spamming from internet predators and other unscrupulous electronic thugs. But how do we stop our own friends from sending out this junk?
And, there’s the added danger of viruses. Exposure to potential viruses is multiplied exponentially when notes and attachments are sent out indiscriminately and opened up by unsuspecting recipients.
I ask myself again…would these same people systematically collect all the infectious waste they could find, then go to the Post Office and mail it out in neat contagious packages to everyone they know? Of course they wouldn’t. But many of these folks forge ahead and create an epidemic of computer diseases, by arbitrarily sending out a mish-mash of attachments and notes from strangers, without giving it a second thought. Millions of dollars are spent every year on fixing problems caused by this dangerous practice.
Then there are the virus alerts! Unfortunately, when we react and tell all of our friends to panic along with us, we play right into the hands of the malicious creators. Most of these are nothing more than a hoax, where the whole intent of the originator is to flood email servers and cause gridlock in the resulting traffic jam.
Our good old Canadian winters can be long and cold, and I guess people get cabin fever and look for things to do. But rather than send garbage to someone who doesn’t want it, why not take a minute and actually send a personal email note to a friend or two, instead of just another piece of junk mail.
Now here’s the rub! How do we stop this nonsense? Unfortunately, if we don’t want to receive this type of mail, there is no easy answer. We simply must gather up the courage and tell our friends to take us off their mass mailing address lists. And in my experience so far, despite my attempt at diplomacy, the request is usually met with a prickly acknowledgement.
I have asked many people their opinions about this issue and everyone seems to agree that it is a huge problem but they simply don’t know how to tell the offenders. As most of us, they don’t want to hurt the feelings of their friends, family or co-workers and would rather put up with the annoyance by deleting the messages, without reading them.
Would we be as reluctant to tell people we know not to send other types of junk mail? For example, what would we say if these same people regularly sent us big brown envelopes filled with all the unsolicited third-class mail they had received? Just think…everyday, envelopes and envelopes filled with everyone’s pizza ads, requests for donations, rug cleaning flyers and shampoo samples, delivered by the postman and dropped right at our doors! Do you think we would be as polite?
The only immediate answer to the problem is to become our own human email filters. We need to take a stand and confront the junk mail producers in our lives and say: “Take me off your mailing list!”
And finally, I have no doubt that email has made our lives better by giving us the opportunity for instant communication anywhere in the world. It’s fun to keep in touch with people and use the convenience of technology to entertain and share personal thoughts and stories. But I believe that each and every email transmission we send should pass a test: Is this message worth a stamp and an envelope? If the answer is yes, click on Send. If the answer is no, Delete!