The Vanishing Mail
Am I Just Being Paranoid Or Are The Robots Out To Get Me?
It all started in the early part of the twenty-first century.
In the early days of email we were thrilled with its speed and reliability, far superior to “snail mail” but there’s always somebody who has to go and spoil things for everyone else. In the case of email it was the purveyors of the namesake of a certain pork-based substance. They became such a nuisance that large teams of robots had to be employed to keep them under control.
As the porkers got smarter, the robots had to become smarter still. At first, everybody agreed that stringent measures must be taken to defeat the porkers. Ever hear the phrase “throwing the baby out with the bath water” or “the cure is worse than the disease”?
The number of spam merchants multiplied over and over. Eventually, the only way of controlling them was for every email user to have his or her own robot to filter their mail. I did not want a robot filtering my mail but I didn’t have much choice: nobody was allowed an email account without a robot to monitor its use.
Every time I log into my email, I pause and listen for the faint metallic scraping and a slight pneumatic wheeze as the robot wakes and prepares to filter my mail. No matter how quiet I am, he always knows and is instantly awake and alert, ready to do his job. I did not request robotic help, don’t want it, don’t need it but the robot is here to stay.
I think my robot is like the paranoid android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: slow moving and depressive, so I call him Marvin (not to his face, of course). I don’t suppose my Marvin feels that censoring my mail is a suitable occupation for a robot of his caliber, any more that his namesake thought attending the car park at the end of the universe was a great career for a robot with a brain the size of a planet. On my part, I am sure that I am old enough to take full responsibility for my own correspondence. There is no need for Marvin to wear out his circuits on my account but it appears that we are stuck with each other for the duration.
The extent of Marvin’s power first caught my attention when a regular newsletter which I enjoyed failed to arrive. Delivery just stopped altogether.
I asked my email provider if there was a problem with this particular mail and they said there was nothing wrong with my mailbox, it must be a problem with the sender. I asked the sender why delivery had stopped and they said it hadn’t, it must be a problem with my mailbox. I gave up and just resubscribed myself to the newsletter. Every time delivery stopped after that I wondered what else I might be missing in the way of interesting mail.
It was shortly after this that it became apparent to me that Marvin has a bad attitude. Now I can sympathise with him because I know how it feels to be stuck in a boring job while the brain cells shrivel. That doesn’t mean I think he should behave badly, he should do the job to the best of his ability (even if it is beneath him) and not make mischief.
Everyone seems to believe that the robots keep changing the rules in an effort to keep ahead of the porkers but I don’t believe that. I think they keep changing the rules mostly out of boredom but, in Marvin’s case, I sense a certain underlying malevolence. This surfaced recently when I sent an email to a friend I had not heard from for a while. My mail bounced back with a message to the effect that spam would not be delivered. How dare they, Spam indeed! From that day on, every mail I tried to send bounced straight back at me.
Angrily, I contacted the email company support desk to complain. They helpfully told me that this problem was nothing to do with them, I must have used forbidden words in my emails and that was why they bounced. The forbidden words included “friend”, “free”, “you”, “internet”, “remove”. The list of forbidden words is long and growing longer by the day, it is difficult to make up proper sentences without using the forbidden words, soon our only way of emailing will be by inventing a new language.
My problem now is that I cannot get email through to my friends and they cannot get email to me. Too late I realised that we neglected to exchange phone numbers: there seemed no point when email was so quick and easy. Now I can’t send email, can’t receive email, the robot has isolated me.
Only one way left to break out of quarantine and it’s a long time since I sat with pen and paper to write letters. I won’t use the word processor as I am convinced Marvin will recognise it as a means of communication but I don’t think he will know what the pen is for and I doubt he’ll be suspicious if I take some envelopes with me next time I go out. A glorified email filter is hardly likely to know the purpose of a mailbox which is not of the virtual variety.
I hear Marvin stir even though I have not switched on my computer, he seems to have the ability to read my mind. There is a faint clanking sound, the smell of ozone, an electrical crackle in the air. His hand on my shoulder is heavy and cold, the steel joints creak as his fingers tighten. I don’t think I will be going out to post any letters.