Clips, I.M.H.O., Internet

I’m In Love—With My Inbox

India Currents, August 8, 2009.

I don’t lay claims to being an ascetic, but so far, I haven’t inhaled marijuana or snorted cocaine.

On sleepless nights, I’m not tempted to gawk nightlong at pornographic films in the cold, blue halo of an LCD screen. If I’ve smoked hashish, then, it’s been no more than half dozen times, and that too, was consumed in the spirit of benign exploration.

I’ve not known myself to get hooked to any one thing, other than of course, my customary cup of coffee every morning.

A miniature pixelated-envelope, which is the Gmail icon.

I’m not an easy prey to addictions. Yet, I exchanged a total of 904 e-mails in the course of a mere 12 days with one individual.

The number isn’t alarming given today’s hit-and-click-style communication. Getting inundated with e-mails from friends, family, co-workers, and spammers is usual. But what do you call 75 correspondences a day with a single person? A single person.

It began quite harmlessly, really, on April 6, on a social network site, without the remotest signs and snares of an addiction.

By April 18, a few random thoughts, typed effortlessly, had acquired a life of their own—having progressed from a trickle to a stream to a rivulet to a river, until it burst its banks, spilled over into my life and disrupted it.

The outcome? Catastrophic, domestically speaking.

The laundry went unattended for well over two weeks. I hadn’t got as much writing done as I’d have liked to. I’d been neglecting important phone calls.

The initial thread of conversation, between April 6 and 8, contained 376 notes and the second, between April 8 and 9, 174.

The pace at which we were communicating was maddening, despite the fact that my interlocutor was writing to me from her workplace.

The e-mails were coming in fast and furious, so much so that I was finding it difficult to keep pace with their speed. Plus, it was becoming increasingly laborious for me to access my page, every few minutes, just to check for any signs of activity.

So, I requested my correspondent to write to me at Yahoo! Mail, an account I checked an embarrassing number of times from the time I woke up to the time I crashed and which I could monitor through the “desktop alert” feature that notifies you each time you receive a new message.

From my new perch, I traded an additional 354 mails with her.

What I write, aren’t missives. They aren’t billet-doux. They’re scraps of impulsive, fragmented communication that I’m inexorably drawn to craft and respond to.

I unleash my thoughts on the screen at 60 words-per-minute, bid them adieu, and like a lover of yesteryear, waiting for the bulky, black telephone to ring, I sit expectantly for the arrival of a reply.

I know I wouldn’t do this if I were dealing with handwritten letters. The sheer thought of assembling a letter pad, a pen, an envelope, and a stamp, makes my eyelids feel heavy. But the ease of communicating  electronically feeds my compulsion.

I’m roused—or is it aroused?—not by the sound of the first stirrings of traffic; of engines idling by the sidewalk; of sanitation trucks grunting in a gunky—but by thoughts of what I shall find in my inbox.

Still groggy, I flip open my laptop and let it boot while I head to the bathroom, for once out, I wouldn’t want to waste a moment in starting it up. When my computer is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I rush to Yahoo! Mail to see its nocturnal catch of e-mails.

Depending on who the sender is: (1) my lips will break into a coquettish smile; (2) my visage will assume the form of a comma; (3) my heart will do a somersault; (4) my eyebrows will be knitted; (5) my head will start aching; (6) my temples will start throbbing; (7) my palms will get clammy; (9) my eyes will get limpid; or (10) my face will get flushed.

Evidently, I’m capable of experiencing the entire gamut of human emotions just by sitting in front of a seemingly inanimate monitor.

Throughout the course of the hours that I keep awake, I have the desktop alert turned on. I can bear to turn the sound off when I’m at my workstation, but should a pressing matter require me to tear myself away from my desk, I don’t leave without on-ing it. I don’t want to miss out on the action while I’m away from the keyboard.

I want to hear precisely when an e-mail entered my inbox. At the Pavlovian sound of the bell, I drop my chores, shirk my duties, and rush back to my seat, for it’s the very sound of music to my ears.

A miniature pixelated-envelope begs me to open it. I proceed without delay to my inbox. “You have one unread message,” it announces to my delight and relief.

Recently, a team of researchers at Yahoo!, who’ve been studying the e-mail patterns of people, has identified two types of e-mailers: the “day laborers,” who send e-mails throughout the regular working hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and the “e-mailaholics,” who send e-mails throughout the waking hours between 9 a.m. and 1 a.m.

Which of the two groups do I belong to? A group all of my own.

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