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By Joel Klebanoff

E-Cordiality

Note to anyone who has ever sent me an electronic greeting card: I really, really, really appreciate the thought. Honest. But I probably never saw your e-card. Sorry.

Despite having three spam filters, one at my ISP and two on my computer, I still get much more spam than I would like. Consequently, I skim the subject lines of incoming messages somewhat rapidly (the phrase "greased lightning" comes to mind) and delete most emails without reading them. What's more, if you weren't on my spam filters' acceptable senders lists when the e-card came in, or if its sending address belonged to the greeting card company rather than to you, there's a pretty good chance that one of my spam filters deleted your card before I ever got a chance to see it. That probably upsets you, but I'm rather happy about that. It's not that I don't want to hear from you. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's just that it allows me to blame the dearth of e-cards in my inbox on my spam filters rather than on my lack of popularity. There's nothing quite like a good rationalization to brighten my day.

What made me think of this? A January 30, 2006, New York Times article claimed that, after being a victim of the dot-com bust, e-cards are making a comeback. Oh, joy. Oh, bliss. As if my inbox isn't already sufficiently clogged with mountains of spam and the occasional speck of worthwhile email, now everyone on the planet is going to feel perfectly free to send me their innermost, heartfelt feelings at the drop of a hat. Actually, it's at the click of a mouse button, but you get my point. Oh, and these "heartfelt" feelings will, for the most part, be written and illustrated by someone else, have the depth of about an electron, bear nauseatingly cute animations and sound, and be sent so easily that there will be little or no thought given to them. Man the barricades. It's time to nip this thing in the bud before it gets out of hand.

Here's the insidious part. Two of the three e-card companies mentioned in the article don't sell their services by the card. They offer annual subscriptions instead. For $14 per year at one company or $8 at the other, you can send as many cards per year as you want. If, on all national, state, provincial, civic, religious, and greeting card company-invented holidays, you want to send an e-card to every single email address you can get your hands on, well, as far as these companies are concerned, go crazy. The same goes for all of the birthdays, engagements, weddings, childbirths, baptisms, brisses, first communions, confirmations, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, anniversaries, divorces, and bereavements of all of your friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, enemies, letter carriers (formerly mailmen), sanitary engineers (formerly garbage men), hair stylists (formerly barbers and hair dressers), and anyone else you want to foist an e-card on. According to the e-card companies' Web sites, it won't cost you one penny more to send one million e-cards a year than to send one. One of the two companies even allows you to give two free accounts to family members or friends for every paid membership you buy. Those two people then have the same right to send out as many cards as they like over the course of the one-year subscription.

It gets worse. The third company mentioned in the article offers its e-cards for free. And, just to make it easy for you to inundate the world with drivel, you can send the same card to up to 75 people at once. The catch? Both the sender and recipient have to watch a commercial. Oh great, that's just what I want to hear: "Happy birthday and now a word from our sponsor." No thank you. You have to register with this company to send its e-cards. Big and reputable though it may be, I wasn't going to give them my email address just to check out how annoying its commercials are. What's more, color me skeptical, but why do I suspect that my spam filters will have a lot more work to do if I sign up for the "free" service?

This is bad. This is very bad. With all of the cheap and even free unlimited sending options out there, between sending e-cards and reading the ones that come in, who's going to have time to get anything else done?

You don't think it's a problem? Oh really? Not only is this phenomenon apparently growing, but according to the article, one of the subscription-based services already has 2.5 million subscribers. The other has 527,000. I don't want to sound at all ungrateful, but I hope none of those more than three million people know me. I'm sure that I'd greatly appreciate their warm regards, just not the email inbox clutter they want to foist on me.

And exactly what does an e-card say about how warm and caring you are toward the recipient? You sit on your fat behind (OK, I don't know if your behind is fat; maybe it's just me), surf to a Web site, peruse a few online cards, click on one, type a few words to "personalize" your greeting, type in the recipient's email address, click a button, and then immediately go back to surfing for porn, reading soap opera blogs, shopping online for professional wrestling memorabilia, or whatever else it is you do to waste time on the Web.

Compare that to the physical world. In the good old days, you had to actually get dressed, leave the house, go to the card shop, search through rack upon rack of incredibly trite, syrupy, corny, and/or rude cards to find the least bad one to send to whoever it is you wanted to deliver your wishes to. Next, you had to hunt through the shelves for an envelope of the right size to hold your chosen card because the envelopes that were supposed to be in that card's slot were missing. Then you took it to the cash register, expressed your dismay over how expensive greeting cards had become, paid for it anyway, took it home, possibly wrote a few words of personal greeting, signed it, addressed the envelope, sealed it with your own saliva, cursed how much the cost of stamps had gone up, slapped a stamp on it anyway, went back outside, took the card to a mailbox, dropped it in, and prayed that the post office wouldn't lose it. Unlike the case when you do non-thinking, effortless, click-of-a-mouse-button e-card sending, if you go through all of that work and incur all of that expense to send me your warm wishes in a paper card, I'll be impressed. Exceptionally impressed. (Note to the reader who did send me a real card to say how much she enjoys my columns: If I haven't already said so, thanks! I was impressed. Exceptionally impressed.)

So remember, if you're thinking about sending someone your heartfelt wishes, it's the thought, not the click of a mouse button, that counts. So give your greetings a little consideration before blindly sending off cutesy e-cards to half the planet. Instead, why not call the intended recipient on the phone and have a nice chat. Writing a letter would also be good, although it's not something I usually do. Writing is too much like work for me. If you're in the same city, you could actually get together with him or her in person. Isn't that a novel concept? A tangible, non-e gift would also be nice. It doesn't have to be anything expensive, just tasteful. I'll bet you were expecting me to recommend BYTE-ing Satire at this point. No, I'll leave that to your best judgment. I know you'll do the right thing.



This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.



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