Are What You
by Mad Dog
People who use
e-mail spend an average of 29 minutes a day reading, writing, and
massaging the crick in their neck they get from turning their heads
sideways trying to figure out if those symbols at the bottom of the
message are a smiley face of a person winking while eating a Popsicle or
||E-mail is 30 years old.
This puts it in the same graduating class as Jennifer Lopez, the Big
Mac, and the Summer of Love. Boy, Iíd love to be around that high
No one knows exactly what date the
first e-mail was sent, though itís a safe bet it was an offer for a
cable descrambler, a penis enlarger, or a chance to share in $150
million some oil company accidentally left in a Nigerian bank account.
Itís amazing how often they do things like that. Maybe if they paid
more attention to where they leave their money gas prices wouldnít be
It took a long time for e-mail to
catch onósomething about people needing computers before they could
use itóbut now itís a regular part of the daily routine of 53
percent of Americans. That figure would be higher but everyone else is
waiting to find out if their HMO will cover them should they catch a
People who use e-mail spend an
average of 29 minutes a day reading, writing, and massaging the crick in
their neck they get from turning their heads sideways trying to figure
out if those symbols at the bottom of the message are a smiley face of a
person winking while eating a Popsicle or a typo. This adds up to 176
hours a year, or 7.35 days. Thatís a long time. Especially when you
realize you could be spending that time reading, sleeping, or trying to
figure out why no one has voted off the most obvious Weakest Link, host
Ann Robinson. Personally, Iím thinking about bagging e-mail entirely
and using that week to lay on the beach in Maui. Donít worry, Iíll
send a postcard.
There were Life
magazines dating back to the first year it came out. There were files
stuffed with old cartoons chiseled on stone tablets. There was probably
the first piece of toilet paper they used to wipe my smooth little baby
On the bright side, this is nowhere near as much time as we spend
on the telephone. Ninety-two percent of Americans talk on the phone each
day and we spend an average of 45 minutes doing it. Thatís a lot of
chattering. Like 11 days a year of it. The scary thing is I probably
average 5 minutes a day on the phone, which means someone somewhere has
to spend 85 minutes a day to compensate, and to fill all that time
sheís probably resorted to telling fourteen people today about how she
called the Hazmat Team to make sure it was really Gold Bond powder in
her husbandís boxers.
Itís hard to tell whether e-mail
saves time or wastes it. One thing it certainly hasnít done is save
paper. Then again, neither have computers in general, contrary to the
predictions that they would lead us towards a paperless society. Face
it, 2,000-year-old habits are hard to break.
People like reading things on paper.
They like reading them in bed, passing them around the office, and
filling file cabinet after file cabinet with them. One of the biggest
paper hoarders is the federal government. The National Archives stores
over three billion pieces of paper. Add to that the paper kept in 22
records centers around the country and thereís a whopping 20 million
cubic feet of it being held onto. Thatís about six billion pages, and
itís increasing by about 95 million sheets a year. Still, thatís
barely an eighth of what it would be if everyone printed out all the
e-mail chain letters they get in an average week.
no question itís much more impressive than having a stack of floppy
discs sitting on a desk and thinking ďThatís my lifeís output.Ē
Or worse, having it stored on a hard drive in a computer.
puts my fatherís paper hoarding in a nice perspective. When my parents
moved several years ago my brothers and I helped clean out and pack up
the house. There were Life magazines dating back to the first
year it came out. There were files stuffed with old cartoons chiseled on
stone tablets. There was my brotherís kindergarten report card, a
drawing my other brother did of the family (any resemblance being purely
accidental), and probably the first piece of toilet paper they used to
wipe my smooth little baby butt. I didnít have the heart (or stomach)
people naturally generate more paper than others. Like Buckminster
Fuller for example. He was the philosopher, engineer, and inventor who,
among other things, came up with the geodesic dome, coined the phrase
ďSpaceship EarthĒ, and had the buckyball named after him.
Technically called a buckminsterfullerene, the soccer ball-shaped carbon
molecules have no commercial value yet a few years back they were in the
running to be the Texas State Molecule. As if it isnít bad enough that
the state flower is the blue bonnet instead of the yellow rose, that
rodeo is the state sport instead of watching the Dallas Cowboys
Cheerleaders, and that the armadillo is the state small mammal (unless
itís smooshed on the side of the road in which case it goes into the
chili, which is the state dish).
When Fuller died in 1983 he left
about 2,000 linear feet of archives which now reside at Stanford
University. Thatís a lot of paper. About 6,315,789 sheets to be exact.
Thereís no question itís much more impressive than having a stack of
floppy discs sitting on a desk and thinking ďThatís my lifeís
output.Ē Or worse, having it stored on a hard drive in a computer.
Along with a whole lot of software programs, the entire Zamfir pan flute
collection on MP3, and a bunch of pictures you wouldnít want your
mother to see, of course.
E-mail is here to stay. At least
until something newer and faster comes along. But even then weíll
probably want to print it out. After all, old habits die hard. And
besides, offers to teach us how to earn big bucks working only a half an
hour a day from home are much more interesting to read when youíre
curled up in bed.
©2001 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country.
E-mail a copy to someone today. But print it out first.