[My good friends at work at the Hive asked me to warn you, the reader, that this is a long read … Thanks … 😀 … So there you go … You have been warned … Cheers …]
E-Mail was docked on a mesh-networked hammock, swinging over a silicon beach, whose poles were tethered to RESTful endpoints with baremetal hooks.
E (as most would call it in the cyber-denizen) got startled as I approached.
“Whew… Thought you were someone I was trying to avoid for a while,” said E.
Concerned, I asked “No worries thatcher, got no clips with me,” as I slowly hid within my shirt the paperclip which normally hangs wired like a pendant around my neck. “So… how’s it going? What’s bugging you?”
“Well, to boot, it has been crazy these past few years. The Hz’s are finally catching up with me,” answered E, as he pondered the distant cloud over the digital ocean. “Add to that, the meatspace is becoming more and more digital.”
Encouragingly, I pinged my dear friend on the shoulder, “What’s this? Looks like you are going through some deprecation crisis…”
“No no no! It is exactly the reverse,” E-Mail retorted. “You see … I am happy with my career … While I do admit that I FUD the probability of obsolescence with all these new Apps on the Block every now and then, I know I am the primordial killer App of the Internet. I am the first Siloed-Hall-Of-Fame awardee.
“But lately, I am getting cycled up for being virtualised and contained into routines that I do not execute efficiently by design.”
“Like what?,” I asked curiously, while also projecting where this chat was going.
“Don’t you give me that false innocence nonsense, now. You know what I am talking about, I still remember you Cc-ing people and Replying-To-All like MAD once…” snapped E.
“Okay, Okay… Don’t Bash and Crack my Shell over it,” I admitted. “True, I did use you like MAD,” I guiltily defended, having just mindlessly replied-to-all just now on my mobile, so the bosses do not get FOMO’d over some project in limbo.
E immediately continued, “Like Dude! It began with me using @ then it got confused with some blue bird tweeting like mad with *my* @ sign… Then now… It began slowly with arrays upon arrays of recipients on my TO and CC AND BCC!!! Then with the same people To-ing and CC-ing and BCC-ing everyone on the planet broadcasting like MAD, they’re starting Hi A … and Hi B … and Hi C … and Hi D … andHi E … within my envelop body …” E pausing to catch some e’s from the power grid.
“Go on my friend, I am listening,” I reassured E.
“Now, this new Meme of broadcasting emails with endless recipients and exponentially chaotic iterations of replies and replies-to-all … these people have invented ANOTHER new way to use my ‘@’ sign…”
“Which is?” I was now truly confused.
“I will accept that seeming ignorance,” reassured E as he looked me in the eye while spinning its search models to look for something. “Never remember you @-ing in texts.”
“This Hi A … and Hi B … and Hi C …and Hi D … and Hi E … has been replaced with this new innovation @A … and @B … and @C … and @D …and @E … in text. Apparently, people are getting MAD (and confused) about what to make of all the recipients in the list. I cry every time.” E explained looking more depressed than when I first geolocated E a while ago.
“Surely, with the pace of life and work nowadays, you couldn’t blame us? I mean, if you have 10 people on the To-List, you would agree it is best to call out each person to give targeted information?” I asked, in earnest.
“Yes, sure, there are exceptions to the rule like all things. But like all things, in moderation? 5? 7? That is bordering on malware, in my opinion.” said E as he junked some leftover spam on his shirt.
“Malware? Targeting messages is that? Isn’t that taking it too far?” I asked, “And what would you suggest?”
“A table? A spreadsheet? Some Tab Delimited Text? Something more human? Something more intelligent?” E suggested.
“Ahhh…” I replied, obviously embarrassed.
“And, don’t forget” E reminded me, “the meta word there is ‘taking it too far’ as you so fondly said just now. You people are supposedly best at this ambiguity thing; something which we can’t handle, ironically.”
“To is for the main recipient. Cc is for those to be kept informed and not to be used as a threat from authority. Bcc use is an art, best used with empathy, since Cc does have this air of authority to it. But look… CC-ing is one of my economically valuable contributions to society. Back when typewriters did carbon copies, costs lie between linear and exponential. Normally, recipients do not know who are carbon copied, hence, not used as threats from authority.”
“I see…” properly enlightened now.
“Look. There are all sorts of rules and usages. Some use me as a To-Do list. I recently heard I am even being used as some Yesterbox, which sounds cool but I am not quite convinced yet or maybe I don’t understand it much. Some use me as a contract to signify agreement ‘on paper’ so to speak. I flush when I am associated with Pay.” Clearly, E has a thing for Paper.
“Hahahaha” I laughed, not quite sure why though.
“Another thing about keeping it short: what is short or long nowadays? This is my pet peeve. I long for days I hear from Paper when thoughts, prose, and poetry heartbled through its fabric; when depth and consideration for the reader was paramount without this misguided concern for convenience and this short and sweet email length where people can’t even put proper subject headers… All sorts of advise, most are nonsense!”
“Yeah, I keep hearing this brevity craze. But really, times are flying by so fast. We do need to keep it short.” I defended.
E, apparently saddened by my response, “Well, it is both a boon and a bane. It is both cause and effect.”
“Care to explain?” I asked, puzzled by the philosophical statements I did not expect from E.
“Most time, this emergent behaviour construed as ‘collaboration’ and ‘healthy exchange’ turns the other way. There are no hard rules, but WYSIWYG, you know it when you smell it.”
“Uh huh, go on.” I asked E-Mail to continue.
“It begins with a lazily written, some times out of context, note or inquiry or statement. Yes, there is this adage that given more time, we could have made things shorter. But hack, go chat with novelists and ask why the good ones have so much money.
“Anyway, back to that point in time when an email chain is born… It could have been a cleanly outlined set of questions or perhaps an itemized set of instructions directed to few people (TO) and keeping those informed, informed (CC), then BCC-ing those whose presence in the discussion trail can be misunderstood as pressuring people.”
“Surely, an email properly constructed for 5-10 minutes while read and appreciated for another 5-10 minutes goes a long way.”
“With you on that,” I admitted, remembering so much life wasted on clarifications upon confusion upon clarifications upon confusion…
“I know for a fact that the best leaders empower and trust their people. Not trusting your people associatively says you do not have good judgement in hiring and you do not have the right leadership qualities to lead and direct diverse sets of people and personalities, within reason and culture, of course. This is command responsibility 101. I have been told that the best kinds do not lead by titular authority alone.”
“You have been told? By who?” I asked.
“Ok ok, maybe I sniff some pasted leadership articles in messages, now and then,” E, now the one evidently embarrassed.
“I really have to go in a while. I have to respawn and multiplex myself into some exchanges, daemons, G’s, F’s, Y’s, and all these darknet silos I have to deal with. A few more nanos and the world may go crazy and go full-on with that blue bird, Cyber forbid.”
“Go ahead E, did not want to lock you on this thread. Just enjoying our chat,” I said. “Go easy on Blue. Helps me a lot in loads of use cases.”
“Sure! I am a fan too. But do not dare tell Blue. That one is noisy enough with all this Hashtag all over the place. MADness. Hehehehe.” E, finally cheering up.
“But seriously, I am getting burned out. Now with these cloud things running around in 365 circles, I wonder, where this will all lead. I feel sometimes I will always be there. Yet people will always misuse me, or worse, hate me for the usage they themselves did…” E, cycling down again.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. E-Mail is still the best thing that happened to the internet, from my point of view. Most are just elaborations of the same archetype you began. Like all technologies, it can be misused. Like all awesome tools, it will amplify the nature of the person, sensible and otherwise. The effectiveness of the sword depends on the one that wields it.”
“But I enable it … Imagine all the seconds, minutes, hours, and days billions of people waste instead of building and creating and improving and doing what they do best … ” E added.
“I am sorry E, it was never your fault.”
E-Mail fell silent for a moment, looking at the vastness of the wire and ether, both with hope and, surprisingly, humor …
“You know what … Time to get back to work. All this humanity I have assimilated all these years, parsing the story of people since I first began serving, more than anything, is inspiring still, for all its faults. That gives me purpose and pride. And that duty is an honor worth existing for.”
This short story originally appeared here.