I remember when I used to look forward to getting e-mail. Way back when, when the addresses weren’t simple. When you had to know the exact path from your server, across several others, to the server where your friend or family member got their e-mail. Back before the friendly, pretty user interfaces. Back before people learned how to produce spam in prodigious quantities.
Recently I moved my primary e-mail to a service that filters out the spam. That part is nice. Now I don’t have to wait while a local spam filter combs through hundreds of e-mails to see the five or ten that were addressed to me, rather than the modern equivalent of Current Resident. Now I can read my mail from anywhere, even while riding shotgun down the highway. But my inbox can still put a damper on my mood.
It’s those forwarded e-mails – humorous and serious – that get me down. They’re like clippings from newspapers or magazines, forwarded with no personal introduction. I wish I could blame it on the 21st century. But even back in the early days of e-mail, it was pretty easy to forward on something that you thought was clever, something you thought was worth sharing.
Today’s political e-mails, with their glib factionalism, weigh especially heavy on my heart. I feel like that dark portrait of Lincoln that you see, and imagine him thinking at that moment, “Our own beloved country … is now afflicted with faction and civil war.” I love my country, and it’s depressing to read e-mails that tout some palatable flavor of American us vs. them. I hope that, like the rare terrorist extremists to the 1.3 billion followers of Islam, these e-mails don’t reflect the American majority. But when I’m tired, I fear that they do.
When I’m tired, I think of the early, palatable versions of Nazi propaganda, well-written us vs. them, that later turned deadly. No, this isn’t Germany. This is America. And in America, we live peacefully with our diversity. Look at how long the Democratic presidential candidate was undecided. And that was within one party. We are a diverse nation, and we have a system of government that gives us a peaceful mechanism for debating that diversity, and deciding, for a limited period of time, whose ideas will prevail. But to read the e-mails, there is no merit in our multiple points of view.
Why should the divisive e-mails get me down? Shouldn’t I celebrate their different points of view, and be glad that others want to share them with me? Perhaps I would, if there was a personal note attached to those modern magazine clippings– some sign of the human being whose name is in the return address, some sign of a personal connection. It’s hard to have a conversation with a magazine clipping. And frankly, I’d rather have one good conversation than a hundred carefully selected clippings — political or not.