Rotating at an arm’s length from a computer keyboard, Joe, Brian, Orlaith, Karen, and Rebecca are glimpsing a strange occurrence. Eyes dart from one header to the next. Arms and heads tilt upward, offering a sceptical, occasionally conspiratorial, eye-level glance at the offending paragraph. Many are swearing. Cursing all in one.
“Shit!” one of them exclaims. “Shit!” Another vies, to see who can be the first to toss out the ugliest smackdown. The most raucous, the most hilarious. The most distinctive. And some just can’t get enough. They laugh so hard that they’re literally convulsing. Everyone goes to a different line or gets buried in their own thought bubble. One, however, finds an unoccupied console, smashes his phone against the keyboard, and silently chides the others.
One of these abandoned devices is Peggy. She may not use her email regularly, but she keeps one handy. “You’re looking at the wrong number,” she mocks the president.
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What this adage mostly means is that people can be an awful lot of fun if they’re not writing off about 20 years’ worth of PowerPoint slides. Email generally allows for that: There’s a price to pay for recklessness on the e-net, and just as with the postal service, it’s a case of sober and precise to feed the world’s appetite for gossip and smut. They’re not exactly being judgmental, are they? Sorry, no. They’re just being practical.
Email is in its own category, in this respect, and it can be fascinating to watch it straddle the line between necessity and invention. It wasn’t that long ago that email was (predictably) a pathetic thing, destined to become obsolete by this technological dawn. But it used to be much weirder. Then it was confusing and awkward, and sometimes completely bananas. But we’ve progressed. Soon it won’t be able to resist the bait. Before long, people will think of it as a wonderful, peaceful piece of machinery that lets them reach out and touch someone in the other room. It’s all in the head.
Or maybe not.
If this sounds fun, email is a superior tool, and we should be spending a little less time above it and a little more below it. But that would mean we don’t need email, or even more communication channels. But it is we, with our cravats loosened, eyes on our phones, that are to blame. If only we would look more inward, digest less, be less interested in what’s happening on the next screen, maybe we wouldn’t need it.
Ricky Carioti is a writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Esquire, and the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @rickywriter.