E-mail Fatigue

Discourse reduced to forwarding
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It's no surprise that journalism as we know it is going extinct. What once was national discourse has been replaced by unverified opinion e-mails traveling like influenza through a hothouse. I get so many of these things, I delete them immediately. Rarely if ever is the content vetted, and senders seem to believe everyone in their address book agrees with them.

I don't assume everyone agrees with me. I know they don't because I hear about it, and I'm grateful for thoughtful engagement. Some folks are not so disposed.

Disagreement is often met with deprecation, ridicule and dismissal. That's when you know someone is really insecure about their ideas, and there seems to be plenty of it going around. It's as if we're infected with a distorted form of hubris that prevents us from perceiving the existence of ideas other than our own.

If this is the case, I wonder why I was left with the eternal skepticism of a questioning mind. Blustering certitude appears more lucrative than contemplative restraint.

I suppose skepticism is a natural consequence of journalistic training. There was a day when the practice required the collection of opposing views. If Subject A tells you the world is round, you had to seek out flat earthers, triangularists, Cartesians and fellow citizens too busy to care.

Now, we summarize press releases and silo material from the last two news services left standing. And consumption tends toward shoring up cherished beliefs rather than challenging them. Like almost everyone I know, I have strong opinions, mostly about dynamics that directly affect me. Gender discrepancies that persist in the job market, for example. The continued (though diminishing) indifference toward domestic violence. The use of drinking water to irrigate landscapes and flush waste. Tragique, I feel, but clearly not as popular in the collective e-mail faux debate as the impending doom of the administration du jour's policies, or the aberrant sexist humor that some men seem to feel their female "buddies" enjoy.

Bo-ring. And boorish. I don't send around lame jokes about men's body parts. Why do guys forward rubbish to me? Perhaps they think I'm cool with it. I'm really making mental notes of their developmental IQ and lighting candles for their daughters.

On the philosophical front, I recently engaged a new friend in debate after he forwarded some political subject matter to me. I don't share his philosophies and questioned his position. It seemed to surprise him. He came back at me once and left it there. Maybe he's too busy for discourse. I can appreciate that, but also appreciated his initial measured, thoughtful response and wanted more.

We saw the world differently. Why? What was it about our lives that brought us to such different reflections of the world? If we begin to understand that about one another, can we get closer to building a community beneficial to both of us?

If viral e-mails are the new opinion page, it's time to respond with a few letters to the editor.

Deborah D. McAdams
Senior Editor