Playing Go-Between in the Digital Age

NOTE This commodity was originally appear in May 2000 at aback my grandmother was alive. I came beyond the articulation from my Web armpit and, afterwards debating whether or not to change anything, absitively to leave it. As Jadzia Dax said in STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE, If you demand to apperceive who you are, it's important to apperceive who you've been. Of course, Edna Mode in THE INCREDIBLES SAYS, I never attending back, dahling. It distracts from the now. So I won't attending back, i.e. revise, and will present this article as it originally appeared.

April 2000

Anyone home My acquaintance Nancy's chicken close tube enters the abode afore she does. She holds up her canteen of algid tea in bashful acknowledgment to my action of a air-conditioned drink. No one in 80-degree California arid acclimate would be after algid tea. Except for me. I still accept my fourth cup of coffee in hand, cat-and-mouse to bake my argot the way the sidewalk alfresco does bald feet.

I'm off to the basin to do my exercises, Nancy says. But afore I go, do I accept any messages

I smile apologetically. None of the grandkids accept written.

Nancy stands there, face channelled in an abnormally aloof expression. None of them Didn't they get my e-mails

There's no way to tell.

They did before. They wrote me back.

I nod. They're apparently aloof busy. Nancy has at atomic seven grandchildren broadcast beyond North America. One of the girls is reportedly backpacking in Europe appropriate now. The blow of them are all in college.

She all-overs her arch slowly. So abundant for 'If you had e-mail, we'd address you added often.'

Do you demand to accelerate them anything

Nah. I accept to go do my exercises. Nancy assignment about with the close tube. She pats me on the shoulder. Thanks anyway.

I'll appear get you if there's annihilation in my mailbox, I say afore I arch aback to my home office. Sitting bottomward at my keyboard, I avoid the sun animated off the approach copse and already afresh analysis Outlook Express. E-mail from my mother. Offers from The e-mail newsletters I acquaint myself I don't accept time to read.

Nothing from Nancy's grandchildren. I alarm up their addresses, cut and adhesive them into the TO line, again advance to type Dear Kids, Your grandmother absolutely wants to apprehend from you. She would be so amused if you would write. Stay in school, accept fun in Europe, assistant that abate (whichever one of you is arena football), and accumulate warm! Adulation ya, Kristin.

I bang Send, and get aback to whatever I was accomplishing afore Nancy's visit. Hours later, I'm still blockage my e-mail for Nancy, acquisitive to acquaint her the new most-anticipated three words You've Got Mail! I feel like the old switchboard abettor in a baby town, alert to everyone's business. An odd image, that, because the all-inclusive accretion ability of the Internet.

Or maybe not. Afterwards all, hackers can get into your AOL or Microsoft Outlook Inbox and apprehend all about your aftermost action with your mother, your latest attack accounts blunders (you apperceive who you are), that you abhorrence your boss, or your agrarian fantasies about Harrison Ford. Heck, your aggregation and the government can apprehend the aforementioned things, and I agreement you they'll accept beneath fun than the hackers.

Voyeurism the final frontier. I could accomplish a case for The Need for Connectedness in this Information Society. Afterwards all, E.M. Forster put it best Only connect. And e-mail is acceptance us to ability bodies we wouldn't absorb 33 cents, or a nickel a minute for the latest continued ambit plan, to allocution to. It's easy, it's convenient, and as my acquaintance says, It's fun! It allows us to feel the adventure of apprehension we acclimated to feel aback the mail carrier arrived. But that was afore we became adults. The apprehension dulls aback you apperceive the mail will accompany the electric bill, a address for the Policeman's Ball, or a flyer blue-blooded Have You Seen Me Missing Children. All important, but not satisfying.

Think of autograph a letter in age-old times, the anticipation in the act of writing. We still accept a good timethe amorous adulation belletrist of Napoleon and Josephine, Abelard and Heloise. It is a glimpse into someone's activity we never knew.

There is article ambrosial about abutting this woman, who volunteers for the Red Cross and hesitates to buy a computer, with her grandkids. I am not aloof the letter-writer or the secretary. I am allotment of the connection.

Days later, still no chat from the kids. I address them addition letter Dear Kids, Your grandmother needs you! If you're annoying about her aggravation me, don't. Please address to her. Only a few account of your time and I won't acquaint your parents all the things she's told me, things she would never acquaint your folks. What can I say, she's an absurd woman.

I'm not bluffing. I apperceive how to acquisition their parents. And I anticipate they apperceive I know. The abutting day, I get an acknowledgment from one of the girls Dear Kristin, How abounding things accept you done that you didn't demand your parents to apperceive about (More than she has.) Get on with your activity and let us get on with ours. Some of us accept midterms. I don't beggarly to complete rude. I adulation my grandmother. Sometimes I aloof get...busy. Acquaint her I'll alarm her.

I'll call. And that reminds me Aback was the aftermost time I alleged addition instead of aloof autograph an e-mail Or absolutely beatific a card In my memories box are two dozen typewritten letters, abundantly splashed with White-Out and abounding of mistakes, abounding beyond out with X's. Several of these are autograph critiques. The writer, my master's apriorism final activity adviser Ben Masselink -- above Marine, novelist, screenwriter, columnist and abecedary -- died in January. If my abode bent on blaze and I had to save one item, it wouldn't be my Gateway laptop. It would be those letters, as able-bodied as every agenda I've anytime received. Some of them are from bodies I rarely see. And yes, all the printed e-mails I saved.