Love on the Net
in Image & Data Manager Magazine, Sept/Oct Issue 2003
Today, many of us meet our partners on the Internet and profess
our undying love and devotion via email, writes Frank McKenna.
The email, or "courriel" as the French now insist on calling it
to stem incursion of English words into the French lexicon, is a
wondrous and multifaceted thing. How blithely we regard it with
no thought to the stupendous expansion of human-to-human
communications it has facilitated within just one generation.
This now ubiquitous means of communication and expression would
have been unthinkable to our parents or grandparents who
struggled to compose two or three letters a year to distant
relatives and friends and waited patiently for months, sometimes
years for the 'turnaround' necessitated by steamships and
railways and taciturn postal workers stoically slogging through
the snow on foot.
With electronic communications traveling at the speed of light
(or sometimes marginally slower if an older, lesser megahertz,
aging and weary server blocks its path and slows its forward
motion) we can conduct almost instant conversations with
associates in distant climes with nary a thought to the wonder
of it all.
Emails now easily comprise eighty percent or more of all
business and personal communications. It would be a much higher
proportion had not lawyers (the last bastion of all the paper
supremacists); all over the world resisted the trend by
insisting on non-standard paper lengths, unintelligible language
and billing weight of paper. Would it be they discovered
"Tools/Word Count" on the Word toolbar they could have abandoned
this ancient form of revenue generation and made far more money
be learning how to "cut and paste" and write voluminous, equally
incomprehensible emails; charging by the word.
Have any of us really had time to think about the wonder of it
all? Probably not, because the email revolution has snuck up on
society slowly and inexorably over the last thirty years until
it now permeates every facet of our business and personal lives.
When I was young we met young ladies at church and dances,
school, college and work. Today we meet our partners on the
Internet and profess our undying love and devotion via email.
This new paradigm in human relationships came too late for me to
enjoy but it would have been greatly appreciated in my youth. It
is extraordinary difficult to mislead someone over your height,
appearance or other facial or bodily characteristics when asking
for a dance, rejection was my greatest fear and embarrassment as
a young man competing for a partner. Via email we can be
whatever we wish to be either innocently or fraudulently and all
us men with "great faces for radio" can do far better than we
could in the 'olden-days'; at least until that fateful day when
we and our true-love finally meet. Hopefully, 'she' has been as
creative with the truth as we have so there is no great
discrepancy in the 'hope-versus-reality' aspirations of both
How would email have changed our past had it been available? How
will email and its successors change our future? Will the human
race retreat into a world of electronic communications eschewing
face-to-face contact in an effort to avoid contagion from SARS,
AIDS, Mormon missionaries, born-again-Christians, the homeless
and relatives in need of money and advice about which computer
to buy? Will the increase in communications further the advance
of the human race or will the diminishing amount of human
contact retard our development?
What will be the next big advance after email? Will we all have
brain implants within 30 years and then communicate by direct
thought as easily as we think of a distant friend or relative?
Don't laugh or discard this idea too quickly. I think back to my
coal miner dad in 1952 in austere post-war Britain and try to
imagine how he could have conceived something so extraordinary
and far-reaching and revolutionary as email.
What's next? Whatever it is you can be sure of two things.
Someone has already thought of it and someone else has already
begun designing the embryonic technology that will support the
mind-mail system of the future. In laboratories around the world
the next phase in human-to-human communications is already under
development and it too will sneak up o us just as its
predecessor did. The successor to email is out there; the
majority of us just aren't aware of it yet.