by Julia Buckley
We all get them: the e-mails that make bizarre promises of luck, riches, or fame. Often they are accompanied by all sorts of praise-filled rhetoric: you are a wonderful person; just wanted to let you know I'm thinking of you; you're a special friend. Some contain cute puppy and kitten photos. Others offer inspirational visuals accompanied by encouraging text: You can only achieve when you try.
Sometimes I'm really caught up in these e-mails, inspired by the text or pictures. And then I get to the bottom, where I read a message something like this: "You must send this on to twelve friends in the next twenty minutes or you will not have good luck." Conversely, if I DO send it to those friends, I am assured of some amazing results.
I have many questions about these e-mails. Here are some:
Who writes them? Who takes the time to compile not just the elaborate text and visual combinations, but then the strange chain-letter stuff at the bottom?
Why do they do it? What's in it for them? Are they somehow gleaning e-mail addresses every time someone continues the ridiculous chain of nothing? Or do they just take pleasure from the fact that someone out there is falling for the gag? (And people do pass them on--intelligent people who send them to me with the added line, "Just in case!" What does that mean?)
What's the draw? I understand that people are superstitious, but why would they think that, assuming some entity out there had the power to actually affect their futures, that this powerful entity would choose to manifest itself through a chain e-mail?
Why the judgment? Many of these e-mails include the added annoyance of preaching. The text will say something like, "We don't appreciate our true friends enough, so send this on to your ten best friends and make their day. Remember, they would do it for you." Well, no they wouldn't, if they know me well enough. :) The ideological sub-text of these e-forwards suggests that someone wants to share their smug outlook with the world at large. Conform, ye chain recipients.
Why promise wealth? I'm sure we've all gotten the Bill Gates e-mail at least once, in which it is stated that Microsoft will give 100 dollars to everyone who passes on the e-mail. It usually says, "I checked this on Snopes and it's true!" That's my first sign that it's not true, as well as the basic understanding that Bill Gates, who hires people to decide how to charitably and equitably distribute his vast fortune, is not going to give people money for forwarding e-mails. Still, my own father sent this to me, with the note, "It's worth a try."
Sure, the Internet is the Wild West and anyone can put bait out there. People are bound to respond, even to send on the things that fool them. But I find something existential in the endless chains, the forwarding on just for the sake of forwarding, or just because some words that appeared onscreen told us to do so. What is the point, of the writing or the sending?