Mitchell Fox put up a pretty fuss in the Sunday Times last weekend, complaining about people who forward certain kinds of e-mail. You know what I'm talking about—the inspirational story about the child who bought his dying mother a pair of slippers, the Monica jokes, the bizarre factoids, and all the rest. He has coined for this sort of thing the useful word "remail," which I plan to adopt—and after that, I plan to beat him over the head with it.
Apparently, young Mitchell has decided that he can waste his own time quite proficiently and doesn't need your help. Posh, I say. It's an easily amused mind that can't benefit from outside agitators. Remail is as much a part of Net culture as bad modem connections and surprise letters from long-lost beaux. I personally have received the Mrs. Fields $250 cookie recipe at least once a year since 1985, when it was the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe. (It was still going for $250, which I think shows a shocking devaluation in the worth of a good cookie, even if the confection in question does happen to be fictional. But I digress.)
Remail is the glue that binds the Net community together. Your mom may not be sufficiently computer-friendly for the Web or sufficiently flame-retardant for Usenet, but if she's on e-mail she has almost certainly gotten something she wanted to contribute to your mindspace. There's something very pleasant about receiving a joke that amused your mom and finding it funny; I don't know how it is at your house, but any common ground with my mother is a blessed event.
Remails are the water-cooler gossip of the '90s; with so many of us either working at home or drifting from workplace to workplace, sometimes they're the only way of keeping in touch with all those folk we really truly mean to go out for beers with one of these days. (And then there's the oddly charming "Getting to Know You" e-mail that was making the rounds a few weeks back, in which participants answered such burning questions as "bacon bits or croutons?" and forwarded the results along to friends. I found out more about my brother's girlfriend in 37 lines than I have in 15 months. That's who drinks those V8 Splash drinks, by the way. But I digress.)
This isn't about spam. Spam is still and forever bad. Straddling the border between spam and remail is the make-money-forwarding-this-e-mail e-mail, about which I believe Mitchell and I would agree: Please, people, the switches on your BS detectors should be locked in the On position. Bill Gates is not going to pay you to forward e-mail. Neither is Walt Disney. Get over it.
Mitchell seems to feel that remails are trivial and therefore not worthy of his delete key. The point is that they are trivial, and that is why we like them. Remails aren't worth picking up the phone to relay, but it is a fine thing that the Net allows people to have a level of communication that isn't urgent—and that isn't, for those of us far from our families, a long-distance charge.
And it's hardly the nuisance he claims it is. I get more than 400 e-mails a day (this is not an opening salvo in a whose-mailbox-is-bigger war!), and since 100 of them at any given time are from either anxious editors or discombobulated PR folk, a couple of angels-among-us stories from Mom aren't so much likely to cause me untoward holiness as to remind me that someone, somewhere thinks that I have a life beyond technology, lefty politics, and industry gossip.
Then again, I sense that Mitchell doesn't care to have his family and friends gumming up the Internet, since he made a point of wringing his hands over their "1976 Cadillac Fleetwood sensibilities" coming online.
Listen, Acura boy, I've hosed bigger messes than you out of my El Dorado's grille. Piss off your family, piss off my family, piss off the whole darn Net if you gotta, but I'm drawing the line at Cadillacs. The information superhighway is one thing, but where the rubber meets the road is . . . well, where the rubber meets the road. I'm touchy about my car—and if you'd seen my Getting to Know You remail, you'd have known that.