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Post-attack e-mail different, and yet not

October 7, 2001

Right after last month's terrorist attacks, people used e-mail to make sure that friends and relatives in the battle zone were OK, and to share their grief and shock about the incident. People who lived through Pearl Harbor probably had a similar range of reactions, but they did not share them at light speed.

My inbox, at least, has demonstrated a variety of reactions. One friend wrote that she had never written a chain letter but was motivated to do so by the terrorist attack. Her idea: To provide citizens with $1,000 "travel vouchers" to encourage them to take a trip across the U.S. I could shoot a dozen holes in this particular plan, but it is unabashedly unusual and deserves points for originality.

My friend supplied a form letter outlining the plan, to be forwarded to our Fearless Leaders. (Perhaps the most amazing thing was how a good Republican managed to come up with an idea that reeked of socialism.)

The next notable letter I received was from a New York public-relations executive looking to drum up support for extending Rudolph Giuliani's mayoral term. This was disturbing for several reasons. What made her think that a tech journalist across the country had any interest in local New York politics? I live well out of the district, and shouldn't be allowed to meddle. Still, she ended with the invitation "even if you don't live in NYC, we'd love to hear from you."

OK, fair enough. I wrote three paragraphs about how I thought extending Giuliani's term was a bad idea. I added a good-natured (I thought) complaint about using a technology mailing list for political purposes, but admitted that I was only objecting because the point of view was tangential to my own. Perhaps, I thought, this would be the beginning of a dialogue. Maybe we'd convince each other, or at least pull to the center.

No such luck. All I got was a terse yet polite "thank you for your insight." When she sent me a regular press release the next day, I responded to a request to take me off all her lists, permanently. No reply there, either. Some people just send mail to see the pixels go by, and don't really want to know what you think.

Then, I received a message from a PR person/analyst who wanted to share his thoughts about the impact of the terrorist attacks on the economy. While this held the least interest for me, he was most adept at using the technology — supplying a link I could follow, or not. More people should try this; it's so nice to have a choice as to what to download.

So there was a range of post-apocalypse communications, from the original, through the one-sided to the promotional: In short, this is much like what we received before life turned upside down. Maybe this means that things are returning to something approaching normal.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at

by Charles Bermant, Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company


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