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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Full Circle

I'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.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger Charity said...

Terry, this is too true. I, along with a friend, subscribe to some writers boards, and just today we emailed each other a nearly identical response, at nearly the same time, to one of the messages that came through. Our emails crossed cyber paths.

I love email (and blogs), but you nailed it. They are so addicting.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

So incredibly true, Terry. I remember when we got Internet service for the first time. I didn't think I'd ever use it. It was mainly for the hubby. Oh my, how things have changed. Now we've got two computers and a wireless network. :)

At 2:26 PM, Blogger Anne Mallory said...


"I think therefore I am; I e-mail, therefore I exist in cyberspace."

Love it. And I'd be hitting that e-mail lever too. Check mail, check mail, check mail...

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Colleen Gleason said...

Oh, Terry, you've hit a nail on the head! Love email and its instantaneity (is that a word??), but talk about a time-sucker.

And what a dangerous little thing's so easy to lop off a note to someone without really reading it through, or responding to a post or email without checking it for snarkiness. That's why this is one of my favorite quotes:

"The computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history--with the possible exception of handguns and tequila." --M. Radcliffe

I like email for its ease and lightning speed...but there's still something to be said for handwritten notes, like those Jane Austen ladies had to suffice with. I've been trying to make a point of writing handwritten notes regularly, just because I think they are more special than a courier-fonted email.

And Terry, you should definitely keep writing notes by have the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen! (Thank you for the card!)


At 8:40 AM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Yeah, for e-mail!

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Lee McKenzie said...

Love your post, Terry. I think I can safely say I'm in recovery. I've semi-successfully weaned myself off email and I'm now on about half as many loops as I was a year ago.

For a while now I've been working with two computers--one that's online and one that's not. I use the off-line computer for writing and when I'm writing, the other computer is turned off.

But no matter how much I try to discipline myself, I still check email first thing in the morning. And an hour later . . . sigh.

I truly admire those who write their daily page quota before they go online!


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