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Small Talk: Learning to keep email at arm’s length

I was lulled into trusting again. More than once, since we were first introduced, I have had promises of perfection by this same heartless creature. Time after time, those expectations have been coldly shattered.

Now it has happened again. When will I learn to protect my heart? When will I remember that a computer is only a machine, a capricious creature rife with potential “bugs”?

I am now more entrenched than ever in my belief that the printed page will never die. Fie on those people who have legitimized faxed signatures. Words on paper can never be replaced completely by these electronic gigolos, be it some swell new software or, my ongoing headache, email. Just when you begin to lust after its wonderful abilities, it drops out of sight, leaving destruction in its wake.

I was very slow to get behind email. I am a letter writer. I am a lover of the look and feel of rich bond paper in pastel colors. I am thrilled by the sight of a clever use of graphics or a lovely, flowing handwritten message. Once I gave email a try, though, I was hooked by the thrill of its speed and convenience. It meant I didn’t have to print out my column, put it into an envelope, address it, stamp it and mail it to the newspaper. I could just write it and push a few buttons. It was deliciously easy. This was a guaranteed precursor to disaster, but I am easy pickings for anything that simplifies my life.

The day finally came when I happily emailed my column out into the wireless abyss, but it never landed. By the time my editors realized that they weren’t receiving, it was too late to mail it and too late to replace it. A hard lesson, indeed, and one whose moral I am still pondering. Should I back up with “snail mail” and the taste of glue in my mouth, or continue to live dangerously with the wireless world?

I take some comfort from a fellow letter-lover who keeps the electronic takeover at bay by sending me letters that always contain clippings, cartoons, photos and other fun stuff. Her letters could never become email without a roomful of scanners and other annoying electronic equipment. Besides, receiving them electronically would never be as much fun as opening her grab bag of goodies, which I read and pass along to other friends.

Of course, I continue to email, but it will never own my heart. I will keep my stationery and stamps close by, and until the day email is infallible, we will only always be friends.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who still writes the occasional letter. Contact her at [email protected]