Dialogue: Electronic envelopes just aren't the same

By ROANNE PARKER

A funny thing happened to me today. Save for the latest advertisements for home furnishings and daily horoscopes, my e-mail in-box was empty.

Regardless of how many times I checked it, it stubbornly refused to produce any glad tidings. Send and receive, I begged. Try again, I urged. Please, I pleaded.

It's been coming for a while. There are your weekday correspondents and then there are your weekend types, and it's these latter ones I am missing.

The weekday missives tend to be the friends who work for a living, often in a similar field to myself.

As for the weekend ones, they are supposed to be the juicy ones from family or friends flung far and wide - I left my whole social life in Melbourne three years ago, and the strong friendships would be picked up tomorrow if I returned.

But apparently it's getting hard to find the time to write. I sent an e-mail a week or two ago to the girls, and in my own indomitable way I let them know I was feeling a bit unloved. The subject line to each read R U Dead? Apparently they are.

There needs to be lots of gossip and lovelorn angst in any e-mail as far as I'm concerned. I'm just not interested in those frilly feel-good pass-it-on things that have no personal input. But my fussiness comes at a price.

I'm lucky to be alive. By rights I should have enough bad luck to kill an alley full of black cats, not to mention myself several times over.

I should have every wish I have ever made ignored, even reversed, so that my heart's desire is not only refused, it is granted in the opposite. Rather than have my children grow strong and happy, they will no doubt develop hunchbacks and black despair.

Not only will my life not develop to the fullness of self-actualisation, I will no doubt bounce from disaster to disaster, never learning from anything and dying lonely, poor and miserable.

I don't deserve anything better, I honestly don't. Oh, I'm a good person, it's just that I refuse to send on those chain e-mails that tell me I will get good vibes if I send this Winnie-the-Pooh-flavoured rhyming song of friendship to five to 10 of my closest friends, or even luckier, to everyone in my address book.

I liken it to those religious do-gooders who think they are doing you a favour by letting you in on the secret to eternal life. The messages tell me that if I am a true friend, I will share this with every one I know. But if you were my true friend, you would have sent the nice thoughts and chopped off the not-so-veiled threats at the end that give me the willies.

You might even have sent them in a letter. I walked into a room the other day and did a double-take at a woman sitting at a formica table with about six pages of closely scrawled tidings clutched in her hand.

"Oh, my god is that a letter?" I asked breathlessly. It was a beautiful thing.

I can't remember the last time I trotted in from the letterbox with handfuls of paper covered in someone's handwriting.

I have read all about the damage the e-mail has had on our writing style. Apparently it makes us write like the old-style telegram: Hi STOP Got some news STOP Must catch up STOP Let me know STOP (Automatic Signature Inserted Here) STOP.

But, I suppose, at least we write.

I do miss the all-dimensional sensory experience that comes with a stamp, an envelope, a coffee-marked page and the familiar hand of an old friend.

I miss the "to you from me" effort involved in a real-life letter, although I am sure New Zealand Post misses it more.

Letters are wonderful, but I know that I inherited my mother's peculiar handbag, the frustrating type that secretes letters away on the trip from kitchen table to post box, only to let them re-emerge long past the date when the news it carried made any sense at all.

And for all of the starkness of e-mail, you can't go past the fact that it really is efficient. Especially for someone as easily distracted as ...

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