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Computing With Bifocals
by Nancy Carroll Gravley

A column for people who remember what
the world was like before there was color.....




My E-mail Is DOWN? The Apocalypse Has Begun...
March 21st, 2001

For most of last week the e-mail portion of my internet provider, RoadRunner, was down. They had some kind of major server disaster that effected about 100,000 people in 3 states. The problem was exacerbated (so they said) by everyone impatiently checking to see if it was fixed yet - including yours truly. The more we checked, the more we clogged up the system. They finally started blocking some users and letting others in to get their mail, then blocking them, etc. Add to that all the users calling up and screaming at the tech support people, like it was their fault. It was a mess. There were even columns published in the daily paper in Austin on the subject. I mean, really! It is just e-mail isn't it?

So, what do we mean by "just e-mail?" How much do we depend on it in truth and how much do we depend on it just because it is there? I expect it probably somewhere in the middle of those two. My father uses his e-mail just to keep up with his kids and grandkids. If his e-mail became temporarily unavailable he would either wait it out or pick up the phone. He is very much in the minority. For many of us e-mail has become the tool of choice in several areas. In fact, studies show that e-mail is the internet application most often used. Checking it is the first thing employees do in the morning when they turn on their computers. I had to force myself to step back and take stock during the big "crisis."

RoadRunner is a cable based connection which means it is fast and it is always on if the computer is turned on. There is no waiting for dial up - I just sit down at the computer and punch a button and I am connected. I use e-mail to submit columns to The Mac Observer and MacHome's HotTips eNews Weekly. I use e-mail to buy and sell on internet auctions. I use it to leave my children messages when their day begins as mine is ending and to contact other extended family members. I send myself messages between home and work as needed. But, would my life be severely affected if I had to find other methods of communicating? Shouldn't I have been happy to go a whole week without SPAM? Didn't I get along for 55 years without it?

The honest truth is that I was afraid I was missing something! Unrealistic? Of course, but nevertheless, that was my response and it is not an uncommon response for others in a similar situation. I could snicker at visions of all the young techies having temper tantrums, but the truth is I was totally irritated by the whole thing. (Being irritated is much more genteel than having a temper tantrum you know.) I could still get on the internet and use an alternate e-mail address, but I couldn't access all the mail at my primary address.

A few years ago a physician in New York coined the phrase "internet addiction" as a joke. Now we have all kinds of people taking stands one way or another about whether or not it is a real addiction and what to do about it. There have been a couple of cases in the last year when mother's lost custody of their children because they spent so much time on the internet that they neglected the kids. Call me cynical but I don't think the internet is the only problem here.

Do you fit any of these descriptors?

  • You wake up at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom and stop to check your e-mail on the way back to bed.
  • You start introducing yourself as "JohnDoe at AOL dot com."
  • All of your friends have an @ in their names.
  • You check your e-mail. It says "No new messages." So you check it again.

These are meant to be humorous, but like all humor, there is a little bit of truth in each one of them and I won't tell you which one is true to me, but one of them is.

Humor aside there are some signs that a person may be spending too much time on the internet including their e-mail. Following are some of the more clinical definitions that indicate there may be a problem.

  • The person loses sleep because of his/her life online, stays online longer than intended and often stays up late at night.
  • The person neglects his/her duty because of the net. His/her performance at work or school suffers.
  • The person spends less time with family, not helping or participating in family life.
  • The person feels a constant need to increase the amount of time spent online. He/she is obsessed by the Net and has fantasies and dreams about it.
  • The person plans ways to make sure they can be online if away from home for several days.
  • The person may have trouble controlling impulses to purchase items, products, or services on the Net and finds some areas of the Net almost impossible to resist.
  • The person may feel the need to curtail his/her use of the internet, but does not seem able to do so.

In my day job, I work in the field of human services, specifically with individuals with mental retardation or mental illness. My first thought when reading through this list is that many of these descriptors are applicable to a number of addictive type behaviors that have no relationship to a computer. Rather they are simply symptoms of other problems that the individual may be facing such as depression, drug or alcohol dependency, gambling and any number of other emotional or chemically induced problems. The internet may just be the means of expression in which an individual responds to his/her personal demons rather than something that the internet "causes". When the television shopping network QVC first went on the air there were people exceeding their resources making purchases. I remember once hearing a customer being interviewed on the air following a purchase. She said "I just love QVC. I have been shopping all night and I have to be at work in an hour."

This discussion is just food for thought, but it is important for new users to be aware that one can allow the computer and the internet to take over their lives. For the majority of us, just the awareness that it can happen is enough to allow us to stay in charge. Enjoy, but don't obsess.

If you have any questions, comments, or tips, let me know and I may include them in a future column.


Copies of Nancy's book Tips, Hints, and Solutions for Seasoned Beginners Using Apple Macintosh Computers With OS X are available in PDF download versions  for US$9.57 and in print version for $18.15 plus $4.00 shipping.   To view sample pages and get ordering information visit the September 14, 2004 column.


Post your comments below.
Check out Nancy's complete index of all her columns for the most complete list of tips anywhere. The list is categorized and is a great reference when you are looking for help!

A Capacious Catalog Of Computer Tips

Talking to a generation that remembers what the world was like before there was color, covers issues for people who don't care how their computer works, but rather what their computer and the internet can do for them.

Nancy has a Master's degree in Human Services Administration and prior to her retirement she worked for almost 30 years in field of mental health and mental retardation. She has been a Mac user for 11 years, and has recently developed an avocation of teaching basic computer skills in both group and one-to-one settings.


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