My E-mail rant
I have lots of experiences writing letters to people. Before I got a computer for use at home in 2002 I hand wrote and typed as many as 300-letters in a year for many years with minimal response. The Internet emerged the 1990s and people, including those I wrote to, began praising the merits and virtues of E-mail to me, with assurances (I knew to be vacuous) that E-mail’s ease would facilitate better communication - “better” meaning “more”. I knew it was a lie. People who are not disposed to write in one medium are no more likely to do it in another, newer medium, regardless of how‘easy’ the alternative, or newer medium is. And I told people so at the time, but they just denied it - and they did not appreciate me challenging their honesty. I say I “knew” it was a lie because what I was being told did not fit any human behavior model that I knewfrom experience. I anticipated poor E-mail results on the basis of a psychological model of humanity, not on quantifiable evidence in the form of lack of E-mail responses. To gain the quantifiable evidence first I had to become E-mail equipped so that I could experience being ignored in that medium. (And so it has proven.) Still, I got a computer when it suited me, as I said that I would. I shifted to E-mailing as it suited me, as I said I would. And, voila!, the same people who were not disposed to correspond with me through postal mail proved consistent with E-mail, despite themselves having praised it to me with assurances of better communication! I had the quantifiable evidence to prove their dishonesty, which they still did not appreciate. On the one hand there is the persistent vice of sloth, which no one wants to confess. On the other hand, the Delete button plus the ability to block E-mail addresses makes it easier to ignore people with a clear conscience. They make it easier to lie with a clear conscience, too.
The Rules of Lying
Naturally, I mind being lied to. But I mind even more being lied to badly, and I mind being lied to about being lied to the most. If people are going to lie to me I wish they would at least have the courtesy to do it well. Lying well is easy enough so long as one adheres to three rules of lying: 1) stay as close to the truth as possible in order to preserve the boundaries of plausibility; 2) keep a straight face; 3) don’t change your story. As I have said before, people are disposed to believe anything at all for two reasons: 1) they want to believe something; and, 2) they want to believe in something (which is different from merely believing it).
I am not cynical or misanthropic. On the contrary. It’s not so much that
I have great faith in people as I have great hope in them.
Even so, despite the first rule of successful lying - stay as close to the truth as possible - the fact remains that the BIG LIE is often more successful than the small lie, for a variety of reasons, not solely because it is BIG. You can tell BIG lies seeded with enough factual information to keep the façade of reasonability, and the largesse of the tale mesmerizes people, satisfying a thirst for larger-than-life background for our own small lives.
I knew from the start of the computer revolution in the 1970s that all the talk of the future “paperless office” was a lie and a fantasy of morons. And in the 1990s I knew that all this advice from acquaintances of E-mail being conducive to and enhancing communication - and now it’s Facebook and Twitter, too - was ripe hooey, and those who were preaching it to me were simply full of their own hooey, or dizzy from its fumes. Did they / do they realize it? I think not.
Now, my position on people, their lies, and their gullibility does not mean that I am cynical or misanthropic. On the contrary. It’s not so much that I have great faith in people as I have great hope in them. I send my letters, and attach my Piper Papers as a gesture of great hope. And despite my disappointments I continue to hope.
In 2005 I stopped writing about my work, and curiously people didn’t seem to notice. Most people - even my own family - incorrectly continue to think that I teach English in Japan.
My Piper Paper is like several letters all at once. The time I spent in the 1990s hand writing and typing letters and keeping a diary now largely goes into the Paper and sent as an attachment to an E-mail cover letter. I remember a former girlfriend, Heather, complaining in the 1980s/90s that my letters were not communicative. She didn’t learn anything about my life by reading them, she said. I still think Heather was out to lunch on that. My letters and my Piper Paper stories broadcast everything about me, but often not in the first person - what books I’m reading and movies I’m seeing and what I think about them, what the weather is like, what my children are doing, where I travel and what I think about it. What I think about history, art, music, politics, economics, current events, pets, sometimes even what I’m eating. I admit that in 2005 I stopped writing about my work, and curiously people didn’t seem to notice. Most people - even my own family - incorrectly continue to think that I teach English in Japan. (I came to Japan as an English teacher and that’s the information that immutably fixes me in people’s imaginations.) I can’t be bothered even to try to set them straight anymore. They have their story stream and I have mine and the use of language fails to convey information between us - a phenomenon that informs my conclusion that oral language mostly serves a decorative function in our lives. But it also demonstrates our inability to capture things conceptually that fall outside our mental models. People have their expectations, and we do not excel at recognizing the unexpected, which enables some things to be concealed in plain sight. (Conversely, it explains how people can communicate without a common language. I could supply examples.) Still, it irks me a little that even educated people are ignorant of their own motives. Or, if they are informed, that they lie to me about them, and they don’t even lie well as I said before.
In this life in this universe we cannot say anything without immediately having to qualify it by saying another.
I think most people misunderstand truth and falsehood. Truth is not good and falsehood is not bad. (Disingenuous pretense is worse, but I don’t want to go into that now.) Since language lacks the ability to describe reality as it really is, then as soon as we open our mouths to say anything we are lying about it. Okay, maybe we don’t intend to lie, but we are speaking metaphorically and analogically without even noticing it, pretending we are saying something authentic. In this life in this universe we cannot say anything without immediately having to qualify it by saying another. Language is not so much about information exchange as it is about story telling, which is where the joy of it rests, I think.
It’s not just that truth is not good and falsehood not bad. It’s about the impropriety of genuine truth and honesty in our social lives. I mean, in order to live harmoniously in society with people - including people we despise, of whom there are quite a lot - truth does not serve us as well as polite fictions do.