As if the burden of nagging people to write letters weren't wearisome enough, Miss Manners now finds herself with the additional task of urging people to stop writing one another.
Wouldn't you think that one of these assignments would cancel out the other?
No such luck. But at least Miss Manners now understands why everyone is too busy to turn out the duty-letters owed to friends and relations. They are spending all their time sending nonsense mail to everyone they know and even more to those they don't.
Thus those who wait in vain for answers to their wedding invitations, congratulations on their graduations, thanks for their presents and condolences on their bereavements are not entirely forgotten by their acquaintances. Advertising aside, everyone's e-mail in-box is crammed with jokes that are making the rounds, chain letters accompanied by threats if they don't perpetuate the fraud, forwarded letters from people who didn't know their confidences would be circulated, photographs of babies whose parents they would not be sure of recognizing, and propaganda for an assortment of political, religious and philosophical beliefs.
And that's not counting the mail accidentally sent to the wrong person, and the mail sent from the correspondents of correspondents who have picked up their e-mail addresses because they failed to use the blind-copy option.
So while the government and Internet providers are frantically trying to figure out how to cut spam so that e-mail users don't have to fight their way through mounds of junk to find their real messages, who is exacerbating the situation? The very people -- friends, colleagues and relatives -- from whom real messages would be welcome.
It is frequently suggested that the ease of sending e-mail, which is responsible for this output, could also assist in getting out those less amusing letters that Miss Manners insists are required. If only Miss Manners were not so stubborn.
But she is. If etiquette never recognized the typewriter as an instrument for emotionally significant correspondence, it is not going to condone the even less personal (meaning bereft even of smudgy fingerprints) computer letter for formal correspondence. Impervious to the plea that everyone is too busy in modern life (yes, she knows -- see above) to wield a pen on important occasions, she insists that important letters be handwritten.
But just now she is not going to carry on about how much more personal and charming that method is. She wants to rejoice in how cumbersome it is.
For that reason, you are not likely to bombard everyone you know with all the flotsam and jetsam that passes through your mind, life and computer. You may choose your topics and words more carefully if you know you will have the arduous task of rendering them by hand.
Miss Manners' hope is that this discipline will carry over to e-mail correspondence. As with commercial spam, saying that recipients can always delete what they don't want to read or that they can ask that it not be sent is no longer good enough. The name of an acquaintance suggests that it might be real mail, and Gentle Readers who have tried gently asking to be taken from their friends' mass-mailing lists report being huffily cut off from personal communication as well.
To accusations that she is too old-fashioned to understand the joys of complete and widespread communication by people who want to disseminate their opinions, jokes and photographs, Miss Manners' reply is:
That's what your Web site is for, silly.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband has long hair and, without fail, waiters and salespeople approach us with a "May I help you, ladies?" practically every time we go out.
It's really embarrassing for my husband, who doesn't, by the way, look like a woman. What's strange is these people never correct their mistake and then we all feel really awkward. Can you tell us what is the correct response for everyone? Apparently cutting the hair is not an option.
GENTLE READER: Couldn't you consider this compensation for all those waiters and salespeople who address ladies as "You guys"? If not, your husband should learn to whip around slowly and say, "Are you addressing me?" in a low, not to say threatening, voice.