A message from the heart

The Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks film You've Got Mail has got people talking about love on the Internet. I propose, however, that it's not just their romance that has engaged audiences. Mail holds delights for all of us and modern technology simply makes it fun again--and a bit dangerous. (More on that later.)

All my life I've loved getting mail. As a child, I rushed to collect the post, even though it rarely brought anything for little girls. As an away-from-home university student, trips to the campus post office were always filled with the hope that someone remembered me.

As a working person, mail arrived at home and at the office--bliss!--and voice-mail delivered yet more communiqus. (I do recall, though, that on coming back from vacation, it took an entire day to listen to voice-mail, read e-mail, open paper mail, and deal with it all - and that was just at work. Perhaps there's a limit to some pleasures.)

E-mail combines the benefits of traditional (so-called snail) mail with the speed of computers and telephone lines. The sender can get her thoughts across without interruption, composing, correcting, and sending in minutes ('Dear Dad, Please send money. Love, Janet'), and the recipient can respond as and when he chooses ('Janet who?').

Granted, not everyone has, or wants, access.

Yet, even the contemporary Luddites I know like and use e-mail, so it's not only computer fans who are into it.

Apparently a lot of you would rather tap away on a keyboard than put pen to paper.

It's also a godsend to this ex-patriate. Without e-mail, I'd probably be a bit homesick for the States; with it, I'm only keystrokes away from most friends. And e-mail eliminates time zone problems. They don't have to get up early (or me stay up late) to connect via the telephone.

Benefits for the office-bound include the ability to get messages to co-workers whose job schedules or demands keep them away from the phone. E-mail also helps you appear to be doing work when you're really goofing off, forwarding jokes and electronic chain letters to all of your mates. It also keeps you sat at the computer until you feel moved to return to the project at hand.

The chatty informality of e-mail can be a trap, though, drawing people into being overly personal with 'virtual' friends and associates, and this is where the danger comes in.

The illusion of privacy is just that: an illusion. If you intend to either flirt with or slam someone this way, think twice. Can your spouse or children read your e-mail?

Is the recipient likely to forward your message to friends of his that you don't even know - and they to yet more strangers?

Does your boss have access to your electronic job-hunting with the company's competitor?

Most companies can and do store all e-mail messages (Big Brother lives), which in the US have been deemed to be the property of the company, not the employee. (Remember, White House e-mail figured in Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.)

Closer to home, we read recently of the Nestl manager who circulated an e-mail in which he referred to an employee as a 'dangerous character'. This lead to the case being brought before an industrial tribunal.

Be cautious or be cryptic is my motto. Safer to type 'Dear LM' than 'Love Muffin'.

Which brings us back to romance. On occasion, some of us get so enchanted with e-mail that we forget about the pleasures of face-to-face contact. E-mail is all well and good, but to truly develop that budding relationship, nothing beats gazing into LM's eyes over a cuppa or a pint.

Remember too, the occasional traditional letter keeps the postman employed - and is so much easier to tie a red ribbon around.


Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.