Complaint 1/7: The Email Chain

 

 

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In an effort to begin writing, I will be posting a series of small, unedited complaints. After that, I hope to return to dead-blogging the Earl of Shaftesbury.

Dear ones,

As I’ve aged, the pleasure I take in trauma has translated into taking on too much work—a genteel form of suffering that befits my station, but leaves me thoroughly uninspired. Worse: too much work leads to breathless prose, and the internet has already saturated the world with the moist wheezing of insecure people with no time for themselves.

And so, I have decided to guard my summer writing time as if it were a loose lipped drunk in witness protection, hiding it from the authorities and well-meaning neighbours. The summer is attacked on both sides by committees and class prep. Both necessary, both bloated and intent on stealing from me what little energy I have. As is well known, the advance attack is made via the email. What is perhaps less well known is that the mid-west has augmented the attack with the Midwestern Email Chain.

The chain drags behind the email, and each link is forged out of a freakishly positive ejaculation. It goes like this. I write an email to a group, saying “I have left some old crackers and a sock in the break-room, please feel free to use them in your presentation to the provost tomorrow,” and click send. Within the hour, one of the members of the group will reply to everyone (this is key: everyone must be involved) saying something like:

“Great work, Dustin! Thank you so much! The world wouldn’t be the same without you!”

Within 15-20 minutes, another link is added:

“I love mouldy socks, this is amazing! Really proud to be part of the team!”

And then another:

“Socks are the BEST! Really reminds me of my undergrad! Thanks!!!!!!”

…,

“Oh.My.God. I love this!”

And so on. There is no harm in this–it can even be mildly touching. It is, however, a problem when you have not authored the first email, when you are a recipient of it, and, say, three or four links in a quickly building chain. It is especially a problem when you are clearly expected to participate, and yet have inherited an absolute allergy to effusiveness from your father.

Dear ones, I cannot do it: I cannot publicly say ‘good job’. I cannot join this community of praise and relentless affirmation. Taciturn dickishness is my birthright, and I cannot betray it. So, instead, I resentfully diagnose: what is behind this chain? Why is it public? Why do otherwise elegant people write with one hand trained by habit to hit Shift+1 after every sentence?

The best answer I have is stolen from a friend: all communication occurs against a background of hostility. To push back against this assumption, we have exclamations of praise and wonder. Each email translates, roughly, into:

“I do not hate you. I wish you no harm.”

And this is a good thing. I do not want to be hated, not here, and not by these people. But I cannot reciprocate, because my vanity will not allow me, and my time is running out.

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