Without e-mail, you're dead to me

Draft of a letter to be sent to dozens of people I used to know:

"Dear friend:

"I know it's been a long time since you've heard from me. I regret that I've been so remiss in my correspondence. Sure, we've talked on the phone a time or two, but it's been months. Remember how we once wrote letters every week or two? We kept in touch, made sure the old friendship stayed intact.

"I could make excuses for not writing to you sooner. I could say I work as a writer and I use up all my words in my prose and all my time being creative. But that would be a lie. I'm never at a shortage of words. And I spend much valuable time playing cards with my computer.

"I could blame the computer itself. It has seduced me. Every free moment is given over to that accursed machine. It has made me a wastrel and a loner.

"I could blame my children. The little ragamuffins devour all my free time, leaving me harried and distracted. By the time I've fed them and clothed them and bossed them through a long day of chores and bickering, I'm too exhausted to compose a letter to an old friend.

"I could blame what passes for co-workers in this lonely life of a work-at-home dad. My agent and my editors and my students all make demands upon me, demands I often am unworthy to meet. I therefore spend much of my time faking it, which keeps me too busy to properly answer my correspondence.

"But, in fact, dear friend, I blame you. You see, you still don't have e-mail. I frankly don't understand how you function in the modern world without it, but I guess that is a choice you've made and I shouldn't question it. Lots of you low-tech Luddites manage to lead productive lives, I'm sure.

"E-mail has spoiled me. I can fire off missives to the electronic 'haves' among my friends in minutes, sending the latest news or snorting humor or just a quick hello without bothering with the formalities of paper and envelopes. My correspondents can reply just as quickly, so that sometimes we can write back and forth several times in a single day. No waiting by the mailbox in this modern world. Just a quick check of the electronic mail, oh, seven or eight times a day, as easy as clicking a few keys and waiting for that warm, familiar voice to say, 'You have mail.'

"No addresses to remember, no Zip Codes to hunt up. Just click on a button and spew your reaction directly onto the screen. We often don't even bother with salutations or greetings of any kind. The computer tells the recipient who sent the mail and that's enough information for such rapid, informal correspondence. I even find myself forgetting to use capital letters and punctuation. E-mail is more like a quick chat than a formal conversation. Dash off a few words, hit the 'send' button and move on to the next.

"Real letters, printed on paper, seem so permanent that they require more care. There are all those rules about addresses and spacing. So many choices to be made: 'Best wishes' vs. 'Yours truly' or 'Sincerely yours.' What if the recipient saves the letter and shows it to others? Better not have any typos or incoherent passages or risque jokes in there for the world to see. All those things are allowed -- even encouraged -- in e-mail.

"And once I've struggled through composing such a letter, making sure every 'i' is dotted and every sentence succinct, there's the act of actually mailing it. Scrounging around my wife's desk in search of postage stamps, which seem so old-fashioned and expensive. Better to pay $20 a month to America Online than to be nibbled at, 32 cents at a time.

"So, dear friend, this will be the last letter you receive from me. It's all just too much effort and expense. But let me know when you get e-mail. Then we'll be in touch again.


"Steve Brewer"

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