The tyranny of chain letters

I came across a reference to chain letters the other day and it got me to thinking about this rather weird phenomenon of sending someone an item of interest and then demanding that it be referred on to someone else.

Chain letters seemed to explode into popularity once email had become established as a primary means of communication. God-botherers and others with a spiritual or mystical bent would proselytise some message of hope and request others to share by forwarding it on.

It was, of course, basically clever marketing to create interest about a topic and then get people to spread the word because the subject matter was able to arouse attention.

It all seemed harmless enough at first and plenty of people got into the swing of things. A great attraction was this new ability to send mail without having to pay postage and to engage with many people by simply hitting a key.

But then – as with most innovations, it seems – those with a slightly twisted frame of mind began to pervert the good fun. Chain emails proliferated beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. Inboxes started to get flooded with these unsolicited messages.

Even that was not so bad initially but three factors cruelled it.

First, productivity started to decline as employers realised workers were spending way too much time giggling over silly items on their screens that clearly had nothing to do with what they were being paid for.

Little did bosses realise then just how much productivity would be squandered once electronic mail became ubiquitous!

Then, the IT people began to rebel as these chain emails started carrying images and space limitations on inboxes became a serious bottleneck. Investing in new and expanded infrastructure just to cope with unwanted items landing in employees’ inboxes did not make management happy.

But what really alienated me was the trend to demand that these chain emails be passed-on under threat that misfortune or very bad luck would follow if you broke the chain.

Millions upon millions of gullible people across the globe then became slavish adherents to this fad just in case some really bad stuff did happen to them because they failed to on-forward a load of rubbish.

That got me angry and I vowed never again to be intimidated by such nonsense. And I haven’t. Even cute chain emails of lovely or even entrancing images – and without threat of bad luck to follow – still get automatically deleted once I have viewed them.

It is interesting to reflect just how much this fad has waned, though it still happens quite a bit. I wondered how come I never again received one of the ones I initially forwarded even though many of them must have traversed the globe back and forth like some tennis ball being bounced through an extended rally, attracting millions of forwarders in the process. Simple arithmetic suggests some should have crossed my path one or more times.

Maybe there were plenty more curmudgeonly people like me who refused to be bullied into compliance? Maybe we did the world a favour?