Columns 2003

E-mail – what did we do without it?

Septentrion (sep-TEN-tree-on) noun – the north.  From Latin septentrionalis, from septentrio, singular of septentriones, originally septem triones, the seven stars of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear, from septem (seven) and triones (a team of three plow oxen. These are the principal stars of the Great Bear, which is located in the region of the north celestial pole. These stars are more commonly perceived as the Big Dipper.

I learned all that and much, much more about the word septentrion, which I’d never heard of before, thanks to an e-mail buddy.  It’s the kind of critical e-mail that I receive all day. The kind of critical e-mail that we all receive all day at work that must be read and responded to with some immediacy.

Reading his e-mail and responding to it took about ten minutes.  That would be ten minutes when I wasn’t writing a column, working on my book, interviewing a family on my case load, producing a court report or taking my dog for his daily constitutional.

Ah, e-mail.  The most fun way to waste time during the workday ever conceived short of the three-martini lunch.  I even have two e-mail addresses just in case one is out of commission.  I carry my laptop with…

Sorry, I had an e-mail I had to answer from a friend who sent me the latest list of “You Know You’re Italian If.”

Anyhow, as I was saying, I carry my laptop with me at all times when I travel so I don’t miss any messages.  They keep me up on important things in the life of my family and friends – things that I need to immediately respond to no matter what my work demands are.  Like when my friend in San Diego has found a particularly good latte place for us to try the next time I’m there.  Or when my sister has had a rough day and wants to tell me about some particularly difficult moment in the world of gambling and conventions.  Or when my friends in Barrow want to update me on the weather. 

These are all critical occurrences that I need to know about the minute they happen. After all, how would I know if I was even from New Jersey unless I read the list of ways I can know that for sure as compiled by some expert on New Jerseyites and their peculiarities?  How could I know if I was a real Italian if I didn’t get the criteria for being one from an old neighborhood chum? And what kind of an old friend would I be if I ignored this information and chose to keep working instead of responding? How rude of me. To say nothing of the need to make sure that I kept the list alive by sending it to at least 50 people in my address book.

Work cannot possibly compete with those responsibilities.

There is also the fact that e-mail proves conclusively that there truly are only five degrees of separation in this world.  If that weren’t so, how could I receive the same list of sayings about women from people I met in Barrow, people I met in New York City, people I know from college in Philly and friends I grew up with in Atlantic City. It’s just one big circ…

Oops. Sorry. Had to take that last e-mail. It was an old neighborhood friend looking for advice on how to get her mom to move out of her house and into a nice condo on the beach. Since I never convinced my own mother to do that, I had no real advice to give her. But I needed to tell her my travel plans for going east and now seemed as good a time as any.

I tried to get back as quickly as possible to finish this column but then my cousin e-mailed me about plans for my aunt’s 80th birthday party.  And while I was responding to that, my niece sent me photos of her new dog who is celebrating his first birthday.  I had just finished downloading them when my other cousin e-mailed to tell me she’d just gotten her dog’s first report card from doggy day care and was proud to announce that the teachers said he used his time well. Which is good for the dog because, as my cousin so wisely pointed out, she wouldn’t know what to do with an inefficient dog.

Anyhow, I’ll simply have to finish this column later because I want to get back to my sister about her new refrigerator and she only has e-mail at work and there’s a four hour time difference to take into account.

E-mail.  How did we ever fill our workday without it?