Thursday, February 02, 2006

Why Nomads Love Email

Home is where the modem is

by Carla Diana

NEW YORK, January 11, 1997 -- Some people say [Image]
technology is quickly stripping us of our
humanity. The development of cyberspace is supposedly
leading us to become more alienated from one another by
replacing face-to-face contact with a computer. Well, I
don't buy it. If anything, the popularity of cyberspace
helps us be more social than ever.

As I move into the 12th apartment of my adult life, I'm
no exception to statistics that say Americans are
changing residence more frequently than ever. My
snailmail goes from Brooklyn to suburban Long Island,
then to southeastern Michigan, making me feel at least
partially responsible for the post office's overall
inefficiency. I enjoy my way of life, but it makes
maintaining friendships pretty tricky since I'm almost as
hard to get hold of as someone in the witness relocation
program. My closest friends have learned to jot my number
down lightly in pencil, since it's likely to change
before the year's up. Even when they've kept track of my
home number, I'm on the road whenever I get a chance for
a few days' vacation. Fortunately, technology has
provided me with a near perfect solution: e-mail.

E-mail has allowed me to be in one "place" -- that is, on
the net -- consistently. Now, no matter what city I'm in,
if I have access to a computer I can receive and send
messages every day. And since most of my friends are
online, they now have a way of reaching me quickly. I
suppose a cell phone or call forwarding (or a personal
800-number that can follow me around) would have the same
effect, but this gives me much more control over where
and when I choose to respond. What's more, the net
functions not only as a means for sending and receiving
messages, but also as an alphabetized e-mail address
book, and storage for old letters and photos sent via
cyberspace (though my e-mail provider has a limit on
message storage).

E-mail adds a new dimension to interaction. I have
relationships that are deepened by e-mail, and others
that are made more distant by it. Some friendships, such
as a regular correspondence I have with a friend living
in Rome, wouldn't exist without cyberspace (the phone
calls would be too expensive and snailmail isn't nearly
as convenient as the electronic variety). Of course, for
some, communicating over the net is an opportunity to
adopt an entirely new identity (a 50-year old European
man posing as an 18-year old Asian woman, for example).
Now not only is the computer functioning as a home of
sorts, but it is the only place where this new person
exists.

With cyberspace as a new social sphere, perhaps a virtual
version of the public square or piazza, people gain a new
conspicuousness that they may not like. A professor I
know can't stand the fact that people who wouldn't think
it appropriate or necessary to call him on the phone now
look him up out of the blue, sometimes just for the mere
joy of having "found" him on cyberspace: "Hey, aren't you
the guy from that class five years ago?" On the other
hand, it's a new way of giving the equivalent of your
number to a not-so-special someone without really giving
out your number. Alienation can come in handy sometimes.

So "home" for me has a strange definition. Between Rome,
New York City, and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, I have
never been dislocated in my life. But with the help of
the net I can maintain my social contacts while still
being as disorganized as ever.

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This column is an etown.com exclusive.

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