I prefer the virtual kind

I first encountered e-mail in the early ’90s with a program called Gopher, which was developed at the University of Minnesota and came with membership in the alumni association. There was an internet, before it was capitalized. No advertising.

Since then I’ve spent a lot of time online, sometimes communicating with another person a few feet away. I especially like e-mail because it’s quiet and undemanding. Even a phone on vibrate is pushier than e-mail. I can ignore an e-mail message with the greatest of ease, and best of all I can reply with words I can see, which seems to be my preference.

Now that I’m into my fifth week of an unconscious computer and an empty inbox, while I still think of e-mail fondly, I don’t think that I’m missing much, which is why I haven’t bothered to figure out how to get e-mail on my wife’s computer or at the library or on my phone.

I’m still enjoying the extra hours in my day, and I’m starting to miss certain of my electronic contacts. There are some friends whom I want now and then to say hello to or tell about something or other, and e-mail is by far the easiest way to do it. A buddy of mine says nothing important should be conveyed via e-mail, and I try to keep that in mind.

I like hearing from old friends and acquaintances and knowing that they’re all right or at least still kicking. I also like being able to tap one on the shoulder, albeit electronically, and say hey, I haven’t forgotten you and here’s something that might interest you. I know I could telephone them and actually talk to them and hear their voices in real-time, but I often don’t want to. I care about more people than I want to talk to.

Wanting to communicate without actually talking seems inconsistent somehow, but may not be. I like recognizing and greeting people I know, but I don’t necessarily want to elaborate on our relationship, and I don’t think I’d necessarily enjoy a prolonged—or short, for that matter—conversation every time I see them. I don’t want a conversation every time I see anybody. Just now and then.

Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm calls a chance meeting that involves a short, casual conversation a “stop-and-chat.” He loathes stop-and-chats. For me e-mail makes for a pretty good stop-and-chat—hey, I thought you might like this. I hope you’re well and the family too. No reply necessary.