Full CircleI've always been a bit fascinated by the female characters in Jane Austen stories. You know the ones I'm talking about--the ladies who sit demurely, working at their embroidery while they wait for satellite TV to be invented. The ones who sit demurely, sipping tea while they dream of careers in the space industry. The ones who sit demurely in a carriage as it travels along muddy, rutted roads, wishing they could take the wheel of a Hummer.
Okay, the sitting demurely bit makes me twitchy. But there's one more thing those ladies do--while sitting demurely, of course--that most fascinates me: they write letters. Lots and lots of letters. Letters in neat little stacks, letters sealed with wax and bound with ribbon and handed to servants and received on silver trays. Letters they dash off or agonize over, letters they wait for and pounce on and rip open and read to the other letter writers sitting demurely in the drawing room. Letters that stitch their world together, one word at a time.
I used to read those books and watch those movies, and all that letter writing would give me cases of sympathetic writer's cramp. Thank goodness for telephones, I told myself.
Then one day I got a phone call from a lady friend of mine. "I just sent you an e-mail," she said. Click. End of phone conversation. I immediately checked my e-mail for her latest note and quickly typed a reply.
Egads! Head slap! I'm one of those ladies in a Jane Austen story.
I've got satellite TV, I've got access to a wide choice of careers, I've got a mud-splattered 4-wheel drive vehicle. I can call my friends and relatives on the phone and leave voice messages for them if they don't answer. Yet how do I communicate with most of the people I know? Sitting at my desk, writing letters. I've come a long way, baby--I've come full circle.
E-mail: that time-sucking, day-warping, anxiety-ratcheting source of instant global connection and lingering personal angst. I refuse to admit I've got a problem, but I will confess to freezing at attention like an extra in an old E. F. Hutton commercial whenever someone launches a lecture on inbox management strategies or loop triage techniques. Being out of touch with my modem for a time feels like I've lost touch with virtual reality, and no-mail status seems a near death sentence. I think therefore I am; I e-mail, therefore I exist in cyberspace.
I remember reading about lab rats who could press levers for rewards. When rats were given a choice between food or addictive drugs, they chose drugs over nourishment until they dropped dead of starvation. I suggest giving lab rats a choice between a hit of an addictive drug or checking their e-mail. Cruel, I know, but I'd really like to test my hypothesis. I know which lever I'd be pushing--every few minutes.