My theory of e-mail forwards

Mike Fast called me on the carpet for my recent lack of blogging. He’s absolutely right. Here’s a post I started and hadn’t finished:

I shared this in conversation with Lisa and my parents the other day, but I think it’s an original enough theory to blawhg. Here goes:

I think e-mail forwards are an internet newbie’s natural way of dealing with the huge amount of information now available. You don’t agree? Let me explain:

You, Shinnfans, are internet users from way back. You have experience: you send and receive emails, you read blogs, and you sell stuff online. Some of you even book airline tickets and hotel reservations online. But it wasn’t always that way. Remember back to your first e-mail account? Your first encounter with the internet? What was one of the first things you did? You checked your e-mail, right? Here’s the scenario:

This internet thing is new (to you: you’re not Al Gore). You know there’s a lot of information out there, but you really don’t know where to start. You mentally set aside the hugeness of the internet, because there’s only so much you can think about at once. You receive an e-mail. It’s funny! You laugh. What a clever, um, thing. It may be a story about a lady who paid way too much for a cookie recipe, or a clever little poem about friendship. You know the kind: the one with animated angels floating alongside. So you forward it to some friends. They respond. Their responses flow along a few lines:

“Haha, that’s a good one!” These friends are also internet newbies. They probably send you forwards back. Theirs is not the only response:

“Um, thanks for thinking of me, but please stop sending those.” These friends are internet teenagers. They’re not trying to cope with the huge amount of data available. But they have tired of receiving the same e-mail forward several times from different friends. Then there are the internet’s adults, mature e-mail users:

“…” These friends don’t send anything back. They either delete your e-mails without opening them or they have your messages filtered into their e-mail trash can because you don’t send enough worthwhile content. These people don’t just act differently: they think about information differently. They don’t just wait for new stuff to come their way: they seek out things they want to know. Their tools:

Search is a tool for people who deal effectively with information. They ask Google questions like: “Why is MySQL not working on my Mac?” and “How do you remove cat pee from a comforter?” What other tools do mature info-users employ? Try:

Gatekeepers. There are people out their whose whole job (or role, function, passion, whatever) is to arbitrate and aggregate information for you. Sound weird? It’s not. That’s the blogosphere, and you’re part of it right now. (I appreciate you reading this far. I know it’s a bit abstract. Are you just seeing how many times I can : ?) Try these blogs on for size: This one’s all about fashion trends and such. My favorite blog, these guys cover handy tips for all aspects of your life with a decidedly geeky slant.
Fooled you with this one, didn’t I? Yes, newspapers are a classic form of content aggregation. They collect stories so you don’t have to. Smart (forward-thinking, mostly big) newspapers have followed this digital trend hard. Others are trying to catch up. What’s your point, Andrew? Here it is:

Forwarding funny e-mails is just an internet newbie’s way of dealing with the vast amount of information newly available to him. I’ve outlined a few other ways of dealing with information, so if you send forwards, please consider both search and gatekeepers as alternate (maybe new) ways of dealing with information. And if you still receive lots of forwards (and no longer care to), every e-mail program has a way of dealing with that: