Digital Slob


Workplace dramas,
played out on e-mail

Bad economic times can come and go, but it's only now, in the chaotic Digital Age, when the shock of an e-mail pink slip could be compounded by an onslaught of spam challenging our reproductive viability.

The terms "downsizing" and "Viagra" shouldn't even be in the same lexicon, let alone the same e-mail inbox.

Every workday, millions of us boot up and brace for the roller-coaster ride that is business e-mail, which for most is still interspersed with spam. No matter what it says on our resumes, everyone with an e-mail account at work is really manning a conveyor belt, separating the wheat from the chaff, the tasty resignation manifestoes from the herbal balding cures, and the CEO proclamations about our paychecks from the pyramid schemes (hopefully, they are distinguishable).

Office e-mail ever-so-slowly turns the heat up on our stress levels. It's said that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it'll jump out, but if you put the same frog in a pot of lukewarm water, and give it access to office e-mail, after a few hundred clicks it'll jump back into the pot of boiling water.

Knowing this, it's perhaps easier to understand why so many of us log on with all the enthusiasm of a 6-year-old checking under his bed for monsters.

And the spam that fills the expanses between the bad news, and the really bad news, only increases our tension. Some Respectable People try to stop it with layer upon layer of filtering software, reducing themselves to a kind of Digital Age Curly Howard (my favorite of the Three Stooges, who once surrounded himself with plumbing pipe in a bathtub, trying in vain to keep a leaky shower from hosing him down). Like Curly, they end up exhausted, trapped inside their solutions and still all wet.

By contrast, most Digital Slobs would never employ a magic bullet for spam even if one existed, because to most of our bosses deleting unsolicited e-mail looks indistinguishable from actual work. Still, even this banal lack of productivity will, at some point, embarrass you as you sit with the other frogs in the lukewarm water. This is because co-workers who forward e-mails are within arm's reach, and can ask whether you liked that joke about President Bush, the hippie and the Dalai Lama on the doomed airplane.

"Send it to me again," you reply. "I promise I'll read it, even though it looked about as long as a Beowulf poem, and I'm pretty sure that, in the end, Bush did something pretty stupid and fell out of the airplane without a parachute."

"Wow, are you sure you didn't read it?" they say, their feelings spared long enough to crown you the office psychic.

Warped by all this digital dysfunction, it's easy to see why we take private joy in the misery of others, especially when we can track it via "public announcement" business e-mails. Rare gems, but true stress-relievers, they run their course before our very eyes, and are so simple we only need to read the subject lines to follow their tragic plots. For example:

From 10:11 a.m.: Server is down. 10:13 a.m.: Server is up. 10:16 a.m.: Server down again. 10:19 a.m.: Server up again. 10:22 a.m.: Server down again. 10:25 a.m.:Stop laughing at me! Don't think I can't hear you all laughing! From bldg.maint 10:29 a.m.: Avoid 10th Floor corridor near system administrator's office -- window is broken. From 10:35 a.m.: Memorial for system administrator set for 10:45 a.m.

Dark humor, yes, but to anyone who thinks we have any other salvation from our business e-mail purgatory, we Digital Slobs offer this simple amphibious refrain: Ribbet, ribbet.

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's
production editor. Reach him at

E-mail to Business Editor

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