Student View

(Feb. 20, 1997, Gazette)

Don't believe the hype:

Why e-mail is no substitute

for the real thing

By Kathleen Lippa

A few weeks ago an e-mail pal of mine wrote, "I fear you know only the electronic me." That one line on my screen, (not to mention the lines of people I've seen waiting for computer terminals every day) inspired me to write something about e-mail generated relationships, and how seriously they should be taken.

Computer experts on campus say that students who spend hours maintaining relationships via the Internet are probably caught up in the "thrill of the new" that the medium exudes. Speedy messages, and conversation without long-distance costs, make e-mail communication an understandable choice of this generation -- and, in particular, lovers. But logged-on romantics may crash and burn out if e-mail becomes their only love connection. As a once die-hard user of e-mail explained to me recently, "You can rattle off e-mail gibberish in five minutes, or you can sit down and write a letter. Little glowing blue letters [on a screen] just don't cut it."

Chris, a fourth-year history major from St. John's, can laugh now about an e-mail romance that recently ended.

"If I had a band," he joked, "I'd want to substitute 'e-mail lover' for 'Turbo lover' in that Judas Priest song."

With the confidence of one who has truly been-there and done-that, Chris shared the story of his Montreal-St. John's e-mail romance, during a conversation in the library.

"After awhile, communicating by e-mail, I started to feel like I didn't have a girlfriend; I started to think 'I don't feel like I should.'"

And when flame-wars (bitter, electronically written exchanges) started replacing flames of a more passionate nature between the two e-mailers, Chris said writing his Montreal girlfriend over the Internet became like "keeping up my end of the bargain." Now maintaining a just-friends connection with her, he summed up e-mail contact, saying: "There is that constant worry about whether or not you're getting the right message across."

Bruce Mason, who is working on his PhD thesis -- titled Creation of Folk Cultures on the Internet -- isn't fazed when he hears about how much students love e-mail.

"There's a lot of hype about [e-mail]," he explained, "from those who say it'll destroy the world and others who say it's the savior."

Mr. Mason acknowledged that the misinterpretation of e-mail messages is rampant, and can be problematic for lovers who want to take every word to heart. He stressed that while people new to the medium tend to think before they type, others just don't. And e-mailers often let "the human factor," like visits to each other, slide because of the cheap, convenient lure of the computer. But ultimately, Mr. Mason said, e-mail is "just another medium" and is "no more a hybrid of communication than a phone call."

However, he warned: "Treat [e-mail] like anything that's potentially addicting," adding, "but if you're getting good grades, sleeping and eating well, and it's not in control of you, you're doing okay."

Kathleen Lippa is a fourth-year student from St. John's who is working on a double major in Russian and English. While she enjoys using e-mail, she prefers life unplugged.