If someone sent you a link, to this blog, it is because they love you. Because of the love they have for you they want to continue communicating with you, but the sickness that you keep showing is making it hard for them. Please, read on. Know that we aren’t condemning you, we are condemning the sickness you have.
If you are one of the regular readers, welcome back!
The actual post:
Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues. Today’s issue is Chain Letters. If you are younger than me to the point that the Internet was always a part of your life, than chain letters have always existed for you. It is a recent phenomenon, however, one that wasn’t popular until e-mail made written correspondence cheap, fast, and stupid. I was in 6th grade when the internet finally reached my corner of Iowa. It took longer for the internet to reach Iowa than most places. This is partially because we weren’t excited about it. When people said “Information Super Highway”, we just pictured the paved road that we labeled Main Street. Notice, I said “the” paved road, not “a” paved road. Main Street might be paved, but the speed limit is 20 mph because of the school crosswalks and it is interrupted by stop signs every block. Compare that to the dirt roads where the speed limit is whatever you feel like and there are no stop signs, even at the intersections. (You probably think I’m joking about that ‘no stop signs at intersections’ fact.) The second delay in the internet is that the construction workers laying the cable had to fight off the Amish warrior hordes, armed with their new invention of fire from atop their saddled T-Rex mounts. They were a fearsome foe.
I’m grateful for the delays, because I grew up in a time when people had to talk to one another. It was the only option. If I wanted to talk to Paul, I had to go up to Paul and strike up a conversation. These conversations could last as little as thirty seconds or could last up to six hours. During the conversation we’d walk, do things, play games, work on projects, and live life together. It was a time where we expressed ourselves. We let ourselves be known as we got to know others. You just conversed until you were done and then you left. There was also the phone option, but it wasn’t ideal. We got charged extra money if we called anyone outside of our area code. Now area codes don’t cover a whole lot of ground, so you’re probably calling someone close by. Folks used phones to talk, and if the conversation was going good, they just said “hey, let’s meet up and talk about this.”
I mention all this because I picture all communication as a face-to-face conversation. All other communication tries to simulate that. Phone calls do okay, writing letters is a bit one sided but you can anticipate what the other person wants to ‘hear’, and post cards were a quick “Hey how are ya? I’m doing awesome at this location”. Post cards were nice, because they were the promise of a more in depth conversation later.
It all changed when the internet came out. Keep in mind, face-to-face is my ideal mode of conversation, so I compare everything against it. I even picture two people talking face-to-face when I communicate in various methods. E-mail was fun, and I did a lot of it early on because it was so darn cool. But it’s like having a conversation where one person says a lot of things and then goes silent for a few hours, waiting for a response. Chat rooms were better, but the pacing of the conversation goes from fast to slow, and could get interrupted when there was a phone call on either end. Skype and other face-to-face programs didn’t come around until much later. This is back when 20% of home phones were rotary phones, so text messages and pictures were not a thing yet.
It was in this unholy arena that Chain Letters were born. I don’t know who invented them, but screw that guy/girl. They were, are, and forever will be awful. It used to be that when I looked at my e-mail inbox, I pictured the hallway at my high school. I had a locker just inside the door in high school, and as I walked to my first class all the way across the school I got the chance to have a small conversation with everyone. It was like that when I opened my inbox. Short conversations with everyone. But then the Chain Letter virus spread.
It’s like any zombie movie. The virus spread unpredictably, but I knew that I’d be safe from it because I was the main character. At first it was just one chain letter. As I walked down my imaginary hallway of friends I had a bunch of miniature conversations until one person decided to have a very out of place conversation. “Did you know that our rain forests are being deforested at the rate of 30 acres per day? We need to do something about this! Pass this letter onto 15 more people if you want to protect the rain forest!”
I like the rain forest as much as the next guy, but that conversation was weird, and wouldn’t be one that I’d have on a normal day, so I trashed it. Over the next few weeks, the virus spread. My mental hallway was losing friends. People were being replaced by machinations that just spouted whatever script was fed to them. “Pass this letter on to 20 people or you’ll never find love! 30 people and you’ll meet the love of your life this weekend!” “Bill Gates is trying a new software. If you pass this onto 10 people he’ll give you 1,000 dollars! I didn’t believe it until after I sent this chain letter, Bill gave me a check. Not sure how I told you about it though since I had to send the email before I got the check….” “If you hate Satan and love Jesus you’ll pass this onto at least 10 people. Don’t deny Christ!” “If you are against shooting children, pass this on!”
The awesomeness of email had a graph like a man shot from a canon. It soared ever so high. It was exciting. It was thrilling. It was new! But then it came crashing down with disastrous results. The virus spread; chain letters grabbed my inbox and constricted it. The mental hallway that used to be filled with memories of my friends has been replaced with a hallway with sirens, strobe lights, and thousands of chattering voices all screaming for my attention. Chain letters opened the way for businesses to just throw out their ragweed pollen into the internet for everyone to choke on. Some advertising guy thought “Huh…people are sending trash to their friends already. What if we did something like that?” I rarely open my email anymore because it is just too awful. Instead of thoughtful correspondence it is mostly about buying gadgets and increasing the size of various body parts (biceps and triceps) while decreasing the size of others (brain).
Chain letters also led to the downfall of Facebook. Facebook needed a new kind of mental construct for me. For me, Facebook was my high school courtyard. Instead of conversations, it was more like people wandering into the court yard and shouting what they were thinking. It was a bit more organized, people would take turns, but the shouts still happened rapid fire. “I’m doing great!” “Come drinking with me this weekend!” “The Dispatch concert was awesome!” “I’m learning how to Scuba dive!” Quick clips broadcasted into the friend-sphere.
Chain letters ruined that. With a quick evolution of the virus (which happened after Facebook opened to people outside of college), chain letters adapted to corrupt Facebook statuses. Quickly the stream of shouted awesome became corrupted. People decided that they should have a guilt based communication structure rather than saying what they what was on their mind. “If you like firefighters you’ll post this. If you don’t post this, everyone will think you hate firefighters” “If you love Jesus, you’ll reduce his gospel message to a passing fad in order to gain some cheap attention. Copy my post to brag about your humility!” “I don’t know if anyone cares enough to post this for even an hour, but copy and post this status if you are against the institutionalized drowning of puppies. Don’t enable those puppy drowners by staying silent.”
No one talks like that!
Yet again, another spot for me to retreat to in order to feel some connection with folks was ruined. The court yard was a place where I saw peoples’ excitement, hopes, dreams, struggles, triumphs, and priorities. It became a swamp of guilt. “Mimic my status if you want to show how much of an individual you are. Tag your friends so they can uniquely mimic my status also.” “If you love your mother you’ll post this status. Your sister already has. Don’t let her be the favorite child.” “If you are against dragons eating people, repost this twice. Once today and once a week from now.”
No one talks like that. Rather than the court yard of fleeting conversation, my mental courtyard has become a protest where everyone is waving signs clamoring for attention for ideas they care nothing about. Also giant posters of babys have been plastered everywhere, and every so often a plane flies overhead and drops millions of pamphlets to the ground. All of the pamphlets are titled “15 things from 10-20 years ago that we are going to whore out in a format that took us 5 minutes and no thought to create in order to bait you into clicking on our site so we can profit from the actual artists who worked hard to create the thing you feel nostalgic about.” Luckily, Facebook has a “block” button, so I can ban out a lot of this. However, it’s become apparent that bailing out the boat one bucket at a time will not stop the Titanic from sinking.
So let me say this for everyone. Chain letters are bad. They are a guilt based form of communication where you are trying to guilt someone else into a behavior they don’t want to do. That’s bullying. That’s blackmail. That’s something that friends don’t do to each other. People want to hear about what is in your heart, not see a chain letter that has already been posted by seven other people that same day. When I see you post a chain letter, I mentally picture you standing next to me in a face-to-face conversation where you are trying to guilt me into doing something I know is stupid in a conversation I wish you weren’t instigating. When I see you post a chain letter, I picture you sneezing in a crowded room without covering in an attempt to spread the virus as far as you can. When I see you post a chain letter, I hear you saying the words in a whiny tone that a 2-year-old would use to beg its parents for a candy at the grocery store that it isn’t going to get. When I see you post a chain letter, I see you parroting someone else who is parroting someone else in a long line of vacant heads that couldn’t create an original thought until the originator of the chain letter is reached, and they weren’t all that bright to begin with. When I see you post a chain letter, I instantly think less of you and I think about banning you from all communication, no matter how much I love you.
If you pass on chain letters, you have a sickness. The symptoms of the sickness are what I’m addressing here. You can be a great person and still come down with the sickness. Raising awareness is the only way this virus can stop.
TL:DR I’m trying to grow the readership of this blog. Pass this link onto another 20 people if you hate chain letters. (You should have those 20 people already lined up in your inbox. Just do a search in your inbox for “pass this on”.)