Friday, January 09, 2009

Just Stop It!

We all get them. Almost everyone I talk to despises them. But I know that some of you out there love them. In fact, you treasure them so much that you must share them. You can’t stop yourselves from doing it. You know who you are. Come on, admit it.

What am I talking about? Banal emails. You know the kind I’m talking about. You get them all of the time. The ones where you’re in the 17th level of the email forwarding chain. Rarely are these things informative in any realistic way. And they’re often incredibly difficult to read.

Sometimes repeated forwarding has created line breaks in the strangest places. Some are written entirely in upper case and/or bold type. That’s the text equivalent of having someone shout directly in your face at close range like a drill sergeant. Other times all line and/or paragraph breaks have been removed from the original text so that it’s like reading a 1,000-word essay in a single paragraph.

Then there are the emails that have been formatted in 48-point type so that they could be read from 20 paces, except that you have to keep your hand on the mouse because you need to scroll three times to read a single sentence.

Some self appointed creative artist occasionally changes the font color or uses a non-standard type face. Sometimes it’s one of those cutesy fonts that looks like something you see on plaques in those boutique shops that smell of scented candles and overpowering faux floral fragrance. And to be extra artsy, people occasionally generously sprinkle cutesy images throughout the email that call to mind big-eyed fluffy baby kittens. Sometimes the ‘real artistic greats’ use animated images.

Apparently even this level of fine art fails to satisfy the repressed artiste that knows how to use PowerPoint. Some believe themselves such masters of inspiration that they throw together PowerPoint presentations consisting of stirring images, often with emotive messages on each slide, all backed up by moving music. This is all great until you get the 14th such soaring message for the week by Tuesday afternoon.

Everyone has already seen most of these emails anyway. Usually many times. Oh, sometimes they’re repackaged. They’re formatted differently, or some elements of the story have been changed, or whatever. The point is that they often simply repeat emails that have been making the rounds for years. In some cases they are the very same message that is just making another seemingly eternal round, because bad emails never go away.

One reason for this is that the message nearly always includes encouragement to forward it to others. Sometimes it’s “ten people you know.” Other times it’s “everyone you can think of.” These insidious forwarding demands often include threats of one sort or another, such as: “if you love this country,” “if you care at all,” “or you could sit there and do nothing,” etc. It’s an age-old chain mail trick.

The guilt tripping implication is that if you don’t immediately forward this piece of drivel to a load of people, you are an America hating, slovenly, uncaring, people hating idiot. You, of course, are none of those things. To prove it, you quickly forward the email and your guilt is assuaged.

Often these time-wasting emails — regardless of whether they’re inspirational, thrilling, endearing, political, fear mongering, humorous, outrageous, etc — are filled with errors, misconceptions, half truths, and outright falsehoods. The prime motive, it seems, is to arouse an emotional response without regard for truth. You can often determine with less than a minute of fact checking how accurate these messages are. But apparently you habitual forwarders have no clue how to use and other similarly useful websites.

Some of you consider yourselves to be highly moral individuals. You would condemn the spreading of lies and gossip in the strongest of terms. But somehow you have no problem distributing deceit and fabrication when you think it is well intended. Accuracy is seemingly of little importance to you when it comes to eliciting gratuitous emotional responses. Especially when a few mouse clicks can quickly spread those feelings to people near and far.

I know that I have offended some of you because you have dropped me from your email lists when I have been boorish enough to reply to everyone on the list providing correct information to counter a deceptive message you sent. Although I’m no longer on your list, you still continue to forward unreliable messages to others because — why? It gives you a sense of power and superiority? You enjoy the feelings involved — and those sensations exceed the value of truth?

Before you sink back into your comfortable web of things you know for sure to be true but that just aren’t so, stop and get help. Go to a loved one and cry out, “Stop me before I forward again!” Then do what I do. Since all of these emails have telltale signs just in the subject line, do not even open them. Just permanently delete them. Or reply and ask your friends and loved ones to stop sending these kinds of messages to you.

It might be difficult for the first few days. You will find yourself drawn to your email client, itching to see what goodies it has brought you today. If you can’t stop yourself, get professional help. You might find yourself at a 12-Step meeting saying, “Hi, I’m [your name], and I’m an addict.” Recovery might be painful, but it will be worth it. Don’t wait. Start your road to healing now. You will be happier.

And if you absolutely must read those emails, at least do the rest of the world a favor and quit forwarding them to others. They will be happier.


Anonymous said...

Do you mind if I forward your post to everyone I know? ;-)

Scott Hinrichs said...

Only if you remove all paragraph and line breaks, put it in some large unusual font face, and change the font color to puce first. :)

Scott Hinrichs said...

Oh, and you'd better add some guilt tripping demand that recipients immediately forward it to everyone they know.

Maybe you could include a threat that if they don't, monkeys will break into their house and throw rotten bananas at them while they are asleep, or something useful like that.

Cameron said...

Add some gifs too. Those are awesome. Particularly if it's a cat winking or something. Anything with animals will do though.

You know, by being the one that replies back with snopes data or something similar, I've become the "Keeper of Knowledge" amongst the email forwarders in my family circle. I've been able to influence that circle to think twice about what it is they read, and often I'll get emails asking to find out if something is true.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Good point. My experience is similar.

Unknown said...

Great post. It is always excellent fun to introduce the unwitting sender to the wisdom of Snopes - via a 'Reply To All' of course :-)