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Be Careful What You Write!

I got the email address back in 1995. Nobody else had ever had it, and nobody but me had that address up until some time in 2002 when I final­ly can­celed my Mind­Spring account. Dur­ing that time, I think I received email mes­sages intend­ed for just about every woman named Cyn­thia who had a Mind­Spring account. Throw in more from Mind­Spring users to some­one named Cyn­thia on anoth­er sys­tem. They for­got to put in the domain name and it came to me by default. It was­n’t usu­al­ly a big deal. I replied to the sender and they’d cor­rect the prob­lem. I did have trou­ble with some­body who kept insist­ing that he’d been promised the address for his girl­friend when he opened his account and want­ed to know why I was get­ting her mail, but he was a wacko.

I did­n’t get angry or annoyed with these folks. Well, not at first, any­way. I just sent back a friend­ly note explain­ing their error. I received sev­er­al very nice love let­ters, and wrote back to the gen­tle­men thank­ing them but explain­ing that I hes­i­tat­ed to accept their pro­pos­als as we had­n’t even been intro­duced! I gen­er­al­ly got a rather sheep­ish reply. One young man asked if I thought the let­ter would be okay to send to his sweet­ie. Appar­ent­ly, he’d real­ly sweat­ed over it as the first love let­ter he’d ever writ­ten (and I told him it was beau­ti­ful, of course). 

The weirdo who decid­ed I was get­ting his girl­friend’s email out of spite or some­thing was an odd­i­ty. One fam­i­ly did some­thing funky with their nick­names in Eudo­ra Light and I kept get­ting cc’d on every­thing they sent to some of their friends. I did get a lit­tle bit touchy after the 15th email that kept com­ing after I sent them sev­er­al emails ask­ing them to check their address books and explain­ing how to do so. Then they want­ed to know why I was read­ing their email! That hap­pened twice. The first time was while I still worked at Mind­Spring, though, and I final­ly called that fam­i­ly up and walked them through fix­ing the address book. One gal had my email address in the head­ers of her news­group pro­gram for a while after tran­si­tion­ing from Pipeline. I don’t know if she’d been before, but I got quite a few email replies to her news­group posts. Again, I just sent back a polite note let­ting the folks know they should get a cor­rect­ed address from her or just reply in the news­group. For sev­er­al years, a dif­fer­ent woman repeat­ed­ly for­got that her email address includ­ed her last ini­tial. She kept giv­ing out my address as a con­tact point for her band. After about the third time that I wrote explain­ing to her that poten­tial book­ings would be lost if she did­n’t stop, she got angry because I would­n’t sim­ply act as her sec­re­tary and send along any­thing that looked like it might be hers. 

As time went on, I received more and more mes­sages with dire warn­ings at the bot­tom that the includ­ed infor­ma­tion was only for the intend­ed recip­i­ent, and insist­ing that if that was­n’t me then I should­n’t have been read­ing it and was not per­mit­ted to use the infor­ma­tion in the mes­sage. Well, hel­lo! The mes­sage was sent to an email address that was and always had been mine, so why would­n’t I read it and make any use I want­ed to of the infor­ma­tion therein? 

I must admit that I did send an email to the wrong per­son once. I for­got that the intend­ed recip­i­ent had his own domain host­ed at Mind­Spring, and did­n’t real­ize that some­one else had his address at the domain. No great harm was done there. I’ve nev­er sent out any mis­di­rect­ed love let­ters, and cer­tain­ly no accounts of sex­u­al encoun­ters (some things a lady just does­n’t com­mit to bytes). I fig­ure only those of us with email address­es that are com­mon first names, like Cyn­thia, Robert, Drew, Rob­bie, Charles, etc., got this sort of mail. And, in most cas­es, we were cur­rent or for­mer Mind­Spring employ­ees or very long-time Mind­Spring customers. 

Still, after see­ing many of these mes­sages intend­ed for oth­ers, take it from me: there are some details of your life that just should­n’t be com­mit­ted to print (or bytes). Nobody but the par­ties who were there at the time needs to know the pre­cise details of your sex life! Espe­cial­ly when you’re screw­ing around on a spouse! (That was the sit­u­a­tion in more than one email I received.) At least PGP-encrypt that kind of stuff. Please! 

By the time I received those, I was no longer sur­prised by mis­di­rect­ed emails; it was sim­ply the very explic­it (and legal­ly sen­si­tive, if some­one were in divorce pro­ceed­ings) nature of this par­tic­u­lar mis­di­rect­ed email that gave me pause. It does seem such con­tent would be wor­thy of more care. Since I would­n’t ever com­mit such things to print, I sup­pose I’m not the one to ask. 

I did get an email once from a Mind­Spring cus­tomer intend­ed for her lawyer! It was a dis­cus­sion of some­thing per­tain­ing to a sex­u­al harass­ment lawsuit. 

You know what they say about every­body being three degrees away from know­ing every­one in the world? I knew the guy she was suing. I had­n’t spo­ken to him in about six months, but when I con­tact­ed him I found that an employ­ee he’d had to fire due to incom­pe­tence had start­ed such a suit. I for­ward­ed the email to him and his lawyer, as it con­tained some very help­ful infor­ma­tion. After a meet­ing about the email, the woman dropped the law­suit. The mis­di­rect­ed mes­sage saved my friend’s com­pa­ny a great deal of mon­ey, and him a lot of has­sle and poten­tial dam­age to his career. 

So remem­ber, be care­ful what you write! 

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten 12 Sep­tem­ber 1997
Pho­to by Muham­mad Daudy on Unsplash