When I was a girl, I waited impatiently each day for the mailman (back then it was always a man) to arrive. Not that I was expecting much of anything (short of some important little nugget of heartthrob news from the David Cassidy Fan Club), but the arrival of mail was such theater in my house that the entertainment factor mattered, if nothing else.
When the mailman tried to thrust the fat bundle of letters through the slot of the door, located at the bottom of a flight of steps on the side of our house, our two (and sometimes three) very large (and otherwise sedate) Labrador retrievers would leap down the stairs and into the door, trying to catch the mail as it fell through the slot, thrashing their heads like sharks feeding on a surfers leg. By the time the mail was all stuffed in (the mailman no doubt saying prayers for the safe return of his fingers each time he stuck another envelope through the hole), it was anybody’s guess how much of it was punctured through with teeth marks, sort of their little doggy time stamp. Amazingly most often the letters were still entirely legible.
Our mailman didn’t exactly enjoy delivering to our house. Once he brought a package to the door and our dogs lurched toward it thinking they could shred that too. My father had to placate the poor fellow and his trembling hands with a stiff shot of Jack Daniels before he could return to his rounds.
My father, a fastidious mail checker, at some point carried over his mail ritual from his office and incorporated it into our home mail system. Each piece was punched with a date stamp, even junk mail. My family could never quite understand why he was even saving advertising fliers for the Gold Circle Stores super savings of the week, let alone preserving record of their prompt arrival at our home. Eventually, the junk mail hoarder became overwhelmed with the volume of the stuff, piled as it was throughout the house. Nevertheless he logged its arrival with the regularity of a laxative.
When the internet came along and with it email, I was entranced. Gone was the need to wait a full 24 hours for contact from the outside world: any time of the day or night communication from someone unexpected might just come my way, and I was ready for it. Maybe Donny Osmond would finally reply to that love letter I sent him in 1970! (Wait, Donny Osmond? Just joking!)
Nevertheless, I stupidly habituated myself to check for new email frequently, something easily done when you’re glued to the computer for work anyhow. This habit was only reinforced with a career as a professional writer, waiting as writers do for contact from agents, editors, and responses to pitches for freelance pieces.
Then came the requisite joining of writing groups online, which involved far too many email group chats (known as list servs) in which mundane ramblings about anything from nagging bunions to menopause was twisted like loathsome kudzu around relevant professional information and networking opportunities. This forced me to weed through myriad email conversations about someone’s grandmother’s bedsores in order to glean necessary facts (and not about grandma).
At first, email came in modest spurts, never anything unmanageable. The list serves added a time-consuming component but still, one in which I could remain ahead of the curve. Then along came social networking sites. MySpace gave way to Facebook, which now duels with Twitter for one’s limited time. Back in the good old days, oh, say, about 2005, a writer could just write. But with the onset of social networking came the aha moment for the publishing industry that voila! Authors can do all of their own marketing and publicity and save us bundles.
So I found myself dividing my time between writing, sifting through burgeoning stockpiles of emails--many of which were from professional online groups--mingled with jumping to and from other professional online networking sites, then servicing the demanding gods of Twitter and Facebook. It's to the point that my working day has been subdivided into one in which writing seems to be continually squeezed out by the ancillary demands of a writer. I’ve become my father, minus the date stamp.
Which finds me now under water with internet communications. Drowning in information about which I barely even care at this point, entirely repelled from that which once fostered and now only distracts me. I feel under siege with email, as if I’m imprisoned by excessive information: I’m Gulliver, securely tied down by the Lilliputians. If I’m gone for a day, unable to check and respond to just emails, I’ve got well over a hundred new messages staring me down from the backlit screen of my laptop, demanding servicing ASAP. That doesn’t even include the Facebook friend invitations, group invitations, messages, comments, and whatever lies in wait from Twitter. It’s enough to make a writer want to, um, how about just write? Which seems a luxury of bygone days, sadly.
I look fondly back on the simpler era when my dogs capably chewed up our daily mail. I could await the mailman’s arrival, and then get back to my life. The good old days when electronic distractions didn’t threaten to unhinge a person. Back when I still held out hope that David Cassidy would write back to me with that marriage proposal I was so certain was coming my way, provided it didn’t get shredded beyond repair. Now that I think about it, some electronic dogs to shred my online correspondence sounds like a grand invention, doesn’t it?