E-Mail: My Inbox Runneth Over
by Marjorie Dorfman
Have you ever thought about where E-mail came from? We all know that it cant be the same place as babies, but how did it become such an integral part of our every day lives? Read on for a few answers and a chuckle or two as well.
Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night can stave those damn spammers from our appointed inboxes. . . . The Dorfman Archives (sort of)
Sometimes just one word can evoke a world of images. Consider "INTERNET". Thoughts of the World Wide Web and E-mail cannot help but come to mind. Sending and receiving electronic mail is as simple as clicking on a light switch or pushing the button on a remote. Even though it is nothing more than a simple text message sent from one computer to another through the Internet, this digital brain child has transformed society by altering the manner in which people communicate with each other. Lets not forget too, the financial repercussions of "not going postal" to the Postal Service, which loses a fortune every day because of it. E-mail relationships and chat rooms are all the rage and hotter than any sparks a pen pal could ever generate.
How did all of this come to be? Well, new technologies dont really start; they just more or less erupt. Who said that there was no idea so powerful as one whose time had come? Dryden? Einstein? Smoky the Bear? I may never recall, but there have been perhaps four times in modern history when a new idea has revolutionized the world of communications. Their moments of conception, for the most part, are preserved for all posterity with clarity and drama. The first telegram delivered on May 24, 1844 read: "What hath God wrought?" even though God didnt have as much to do with it as Samuel B. Morse. And then there was the dawn of the telephone era, heralded by Alexander Graham Bells legendary summons to his assistant on March 10,1876. "Mr. Watson, come here." (You are no doctor, and this is not elementary), but "I want you." While the exact words of Marconis first wireless transmission in 1895 are long lost to time, he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909 and in 1924 the inauguration of the wireless service between England and South Africa was a recorded and celebrated and historic event.
Lo and behold, for then there was QWERTYIOP, or something similar, which was the first E- mail message ever sent. Yes, QWERTYIOP, attributed to a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson who sent it to no one in particular late in 1971. This monumental event involved the transmission of a test message from one computer to another that were sitting side by side but connected via a network. Tomlinsons name, however, is hardly a household word. When he is remembered at all, it is as the man who selected @ as the locator symbol in electronic addresses. He had been working on a program he had created a few years earlier that allowed users to leave messages for each other. Unlike E-mail, this program (SNDMSG) only allowed communication between people who shared the same machine. He adapted the program to deliver messages to remote mailboxes, selecting the @ sign to separate those addressed to the local machine and those that were to be sent through the network. "It seemed to make sense." Mr. Tomlinson said in a recent interview. "I used it to indicate that the user was at some other host rather than being local."
The advantages over letter mail soon became obvious. One could write tersely and type imperfectly, even to an older person in a superior position, and the recipient took no offense (unless you still owed him or her money, of course.) Also, one could proceed immediately to the point without having to engage in small talk first, saving precious business time. The message service produced a record and, perhaps most astounding of all, the sender and the receiver did not have to be available at the same time in order to communicate with other. E-mail has permeated even our legal system. In the late 1990s in a celebrated murder case, E-mail was used for the very first time as tangible evidence of a relationship between a victim and her killer (The Tom CapanoAnne Marie Fahey case).
But alas, there is a downside. Its called Spam. No, I do not speak of the tasty meat product of which we all occasionally partake. I am referring to the unsolicited E-mail that turns up daily in the inboxes of millions of people worldwide. It often involves harmless notices of loans or other financial services, but sometimes it crosses the line and includes pornography, which can be very harmful if the recipient is a child. People known as spammers regularly trawl mail servers for E-mail addresses. If you sign up to a mailing list to get information on your favorite subject, you may soon find your inbox bombarded by spam, as this list can then be passed on quite legally from one industrious spammer to another.
Why doesnt the word spam mean to swim upstream and leave us alone? (Spawn, spam, whats the difference?) Good question. The answer is that one refers to dead fish and the other to that mail which is free to the sender. And E-mail can be done in bulk, which means that thousands of them can be sent simultaneously to different recipients all over the world. The cost of handling this junk mail falls to the ISP and ultimately, the user in subscription charges. The law is fighting back against this menace, and in several countries the act of spamming is considered a crime, with several offenders being heavily fined. Recent proposals to make E-mail too expensive for spammers to use as a viable source of information have not been successful. So whats an innocent inbox to do? Well, read on.
First of all, protect your E-mail address. Do not give it out unless it is necessary. Set up multiple E-mail accounts, keeping one for Internet activities, one for friends and family etc etc. Invest in spam filters and anti-spam software. Both can be used to block unwanted incoming messages. Dont respond to the spam. If they get no response, hopefully they will get the hint. Before giving any information over the Internet, check any online agreement to see how they will use the information you give them. If they mention passing your address on to others, do not agree. Remove your address from directories. No findee, no sendee. Nest ce pas? Report offenders or delete them. Pretend your mouse is a lethal weapon. Absence in this case does not make the heart grow fonder!
All in all, E-mail is a wonderful thing and like some love, it is probably here to stay. What can possibly lie ahead for us in this technological whirlwind called the "world?" Who can say what advance or new idea might be lurking just around the corner waiting for the right moment to strike and revolutionize? Perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright was right when he said when asked about the power of technology; "if it keeps up, man will atrophy all of his limbs except the push button finger!"
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