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A Sign of the Times

February 14, 2010

Macy Halford in The New Yorker:

Lately—and who knows why only lately—several of my friends, some male, some female, all of them currently in crawl position in the dating trenches, and all of them writers, have suffered cruelly from what I’ll call Disproportionate E-mail Response syndrome. This occurs when one party writes a crafted, light-hearted e-mail intended to establish a rapport with a second party, and receives in return, precisely twenty-four hours later, an e-mail consisting of just one line or sometimes just one word. The word might be “Cool” or “O.K.” The line might be “Talk soon” or “What did you have in mind?” Such volleys, lobbed, I hope, in complete ignorance of their harmfulness, can be devastating; can cause their victims to flatten out and pull their helmets down over their eyes.

Accepting the proposition—one put forth by many coupled people when pressed for an opinion—that a terse e-mail might indicate not a lack of interest but an embarrassment of interest is difficult, and here’s why: for the present-day desk-bound, sociable, educated, literary, romantically inclined worker, e-mail—and its real-time offspring—is the tie that binds. Trapped, willingly or not, in a cubicle with a computer, sensitive people will spend their days talking to the computer—they will exchange with one friend or with fifty hundreds of e-mails on a single news story (or on the evening’s plans), and leave five chat windows open throughout the day. These communications are hardly intermittent. [More]

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