Sunday, July 29, 2007

Petition against email harassholes

Recently, I complained to my sister about two nasty emails an ex-boyfriend had sent me. I recalled other (also nasty) emails sent to me by other ex-boyfriends and over-zealous, and subsequently rejected, dates. It occurred to me that the only people who have ever sent me a nasty email have been people who had also once claimed to love me. Their love was declared verbally, and their hatred in print.

This made me think about two golden bits of advice my parents once gave me. My father told me not to write anything down that I wouldn't want the whole world to see. My mother told me not to make decisions when I am angry. Over and again, men I've unfortunately chosen as dates have demonstrated why.

During that same conversation with my forty-two-year-old sister, she said that when she was dating, she was able to just walk away from her unfortunate selections. She didn't understand why I kept getting harassed after the break-ups. For a moment, we concluded that I just chose particularly sensitive and angry men. Then we realized something. It's not me at all. It's technology. I'm not shirking responsibility for my choices in saying this; I am acknowledging a new phenomenon.

When my sister was still in the dating game, no one had access to email. If her exes wanted to say something, they had to say it to her face, or at least over the phone. Email makes things too easy for the sender. So do social networking sites. The rant can be prepared in advance, revised, rewritten and reviewed by friends. And, better yet, the recipient can't immediately respond. The message will wait patiently in their "in box", like a tiny emotional bomb. A jab. A stab. A slap across the face. A punch in the gut. A split second's click can launch a lasting attack.

What the angry sender doesn't realize in the fog of damaged pride is that the written word is not impervious to reinterpretation. The blips and bloops of digital information do not carry tone or context. Once the "send" button is clicked, the owner of the meaning of the message becomes the recipient.

So, if the message is bitter, petty, insulting and/or assaultive, you can be sure that only one meaning will be drawn from it. No matter how inclusive or well-thought out it may have initially seemed to its composer, all it really says to the recipient is that she is glad she got rid of you when she did.

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