The Appeal of E-mail ‘De-Attachments’

Signs of the world’s dependency and infatuation with electronic mail are now far too obvious to be denied or even categorised as a anomalous trend in technology. Though the former of the two denials no longer admits of any sizable supporters, proponents of the latter statement would have individuals discredit the popularity of e-mail as bearing no logical connection to the nature of it’s users. In an effort to expose the shrouded, covert anthropological impetus responsible for the sweeping popularity of email, an article in The New Yorker titled “The Return of the World” written by Alan Gopnik offers an effectively convincing statement to skeptics.

“Email has succeeded brilliantly for the same reason that the videophone failed miserably: what we actually want from our exchanges is the minimum human contact commensurate with the need to connect with other people.” Gopnik proceeds to quoting a popular classic phrase from E.M. Forester’s early nineteenth century work Howard’s End, ” ‘Only connect.’ Yes, but only connect.” The words of Gopnik make a sweeping claim in staunch opposition to the aforementioned skeptics, who would have us believe that an individuals use of e-mail is in no way an extension of his character or the individual’s natural preference of the less personal communication of electronic mail over that of relatively more physical contact, such as the telephone. Instead, Gopnik would have one deduce that the derivative of the appeal of electronic mail closely ties into the nature of the individual. The attractiveness in e-mail lies in the human desire for communication only as much as would satisfy the desire and the ability of e-mail to perfectly fulfill the desire without encroaching upon excess or more communication than is necessarily demanded.

Notwithstanding the antiquity of the telephone and novelty of email, even newly marketed innovations such as the videophone have abortively made attempts to force themselves as a medium for communications and were staunchly rejected by the many, who did not accept it as convenient or innovative by any means. E-mail affords the user of three principal advantages over the telephone and even the idea of the video phone, which serve as the basis for its appeal and the ability of this communication medium to precisely satisfy the desire for human contact without providing a level of contact exceeding the needed amount. The first of these advantages, anonymity, allows an individual contact without being characterised according to physical features or outward appearance. The second advantage, the impersonal nature of sending an e-mail, provides the individual with a means of communication, which does not demand undesired levels of formality or command strict adherence to social mandates. The last of e-mail’s distinguishing qualities: e-mail admits of no demand for commitment, in that e-mail does not elicit undesired levels of formality.

Sherry Turkle, in her article for Contemporary Sociology titled, Cyberspace and Identity, explores the idea of anonymity leading to the expression of fragmented or “de-centered” selves. Turkle’s investigation fosters the conception of these parallel selves being a healthy and necessary expression of the human psyche. When people utilize e-mail or Internet communities as an outlet, it not only proves freedom from being ostracised, but also results in satiated that need, which would have been brought about the stigmata for the individual. Anonymity, also, prevents being chracterised by physical features or outward appearance, in such allowing one to build purely of their own self-characterisation. Turkle provides a personal account of the latter of the benefits in her article,

“My[Turkle’s] textual actions are my actions-my words made things happen. I created selves that were made and transformed by language. And different persona were exploring different aspects of the self. “

Turkle goes on to note how her own experience “concretized” the concept of the de-centered self. Her experience with anonymity attests to the ability of e-mail to furnish the user with the ability to satiate the desire for communication only to the point demanded.

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