Fathom before forward! – A sneek peek into the world of chain letters.

Why do people forward irrelevant emails? A few reasons that I could gather –

  • No harm – There’s no harm in forwarding a simple email right?
  • Spreading knowledge – I’m doing a noble task of spreading knowledge to my fellow earthlings!
  • I don’t want to die – I’m scared I may die if I do not pass this onto ‘X’ people ASAP!
  • I want my soul mate to call/meet me – My soul mate will call me in the next 30 minutes if I forward this mail to X people.
  • I want to get rich – If I forward this message to ‘X’ people, a large corporation will pay me ‘X’ money!
  • A large company will pay… – A large company has promised to pay some unfortunate people ‘X’ money if I forward this mail!

Is Bill Gates an idiot to pay me to forward mails? If I could find my true love by just forwarding emails, doesn’t it make the love as meaningless as well? If I were to die because I failed to forward a mail, I don’t remember the number of times I must have died by now!

As of July 2010, Symantec reported that 92% of all emails were junk. Having cleared my Inbox of about 6000-odd unread forwarded messages, I began wondering if forwarded emails had any meaning or value.

Chain mails are not something new. Interestingly, chain mails in physical form existed even before the internet was born. (Apparently, a chain mail scam ran in Colorado way back in 1935.) Chain mail on the internet is much easier and cheaper – virtually free. With hundreds of free e-mail providers, cheap servers, and software created just for the purpose of sending such mails, it is easy to create a ‘scam’ in minutes and see it spread to thousands of people in a matter of hours.

Most of such mails carry wrong messages and trap thousands of gullible persons to spread it more. While this is happening, the message secretly attaches the sender’s reputation to it. For instance, you would tend to believe something because your teacher or uncle sent it to you. Here is an article that rightly says,

Perhaps the most subtle and powerful viral element of chain letters in email is the social proof that comes with many of them. Every time someone forwards one to his or her address book, another list of recipients and senders is attached to it, creating essentially a list of people who implicitly give authority to the message. If one person sends an email to another, the source may or may not be cited, and the sender’s reputation is the only real social authority the email carries, with a huge list of hundreds of others attached it, with popular viral emails, it suddenly appears that the message is common knowledge and the receiver is perhaps the only person left on the internet who wasn’t warned of the danger.

While, most often, these emails either leave you disappointed or fool you, they do not cause real harm. However subtle the implications might be, I have managed to list a few:

  • Time – Many of us receive such emails when at work. Reading forwarded mails silently eats away our time – seconds, to minutes, to hours.
  • Distraction – Chain mails prove to be a nuisance when you are working on something important and you open the mail thinking it is relevant.
  • Resources – The resources – memory, computing power and electricity that goes into transferring billions of unwanted emails everyday could be put to much better use!

I believe the internet can be a better place if people took time to investigate and verify if the mail that they were going to forward to many more people was true. A simple and easy method is to go to Snopes.com and search for the key words in the mail. Then forward the mail with the link to the Snopes page if the information is true. This way, the recipient will be sure of the authenticity of the email.

After you have verified the truth of the mail, one more check to perform is the how much your recipient would be interested/profited by your email. An easy way of finding out is to ask yourself:

  • Would the recipient be benefited from this mail?
  • Is the subject of the email within the area of study, expertise or interest of the recipient?

One general suggestion: Fathom before forward! 🙂

P.S: While I remember to have posted a false email on my blog, I have definitely learned my lesson, and hence this write up. This article might have helped me vent my irritation against chain mails, I hope there be a little reduction in the number of such mails I receive. 🙂

How much of ‘bad’ is ‘good’?

I was contemplating upon how we tend to rate things (or even people for that matter) as good or bad. And a realistic fact hit me: Good and bad are relative and opinionated. Meaning, something good for me needn’t be so for you. Just like: ‘One man’s music is another man’s noise‘ or ‘One man’s treasure is another’s garbage‘.

This tends to happen a lot when it comes to believing and trusting people. Some people whom we think are good might just be on the top of some one else’s bad books. Such situations are pretty hard to handle, especially if you are (some one like me and) a friend of both. I’ve had a lot of such situations in life. I sometimes try to change the opinion about that person; but I have come to realize that most of the times it is of no use. Either people refuse to change themselves or even their opinions.

I believe in having an open mind when dealing with people. Accept their opinions but never let them change your beliefs (until you are sure about it).

Coming back to the discussion of good and bad, their relativity is established, like I mentioned above. But I sometimes ask myself: Do we recognize and respect the good only because there is something bad in this world? Is the bad really necessary to emphasize the existence of the good in this world? If so, how much of bad is good?

For example, will the position of the police be recognized as good, if there weren’t a thief?

And sometimes, actions are also deemed good when performed by some people and bad when done so by others. A soldier killing to safe guard his country is good while an extremist doing it is bad.

I think good and bad are contents of a wobbly balance. The world lives in harmony as long as their weights cancel each other out.

Psychology of elections

Whenever there are democratic elections, there are discussions, debates, and arguments on how the results would define the future of the government. There are various graphs and charts that feature in the newspapers, TV channels and magazines trying to foresee the outcome. There are rallies, meetings, and gatherings where the contestants (political parties) try to woo the voters in order to gain their trust and more importantly, their votes.

The scenario is much the same wherever in the globe the elections occur, yet, there is a special importance that is given to the current US elections. Is it because the outcome of the present Clinton Vs Obama battle affects a lot of international decisions, which could eventually affect the global political scenario as well? Or is it because the world is waiting for a lot of answers/justification from the US over its major decisions in the past few years? I think the former reason would be more appropriate in the present situation. The media all over the world are sensationalizing the political battle in the US.

It can be agreed upon that the media has a lot to gain in this time: covering all the reports, results, debates and statements made during this time and reporting it to the people. There is always a lot of profit in it, especially now. What I fail to comprehend is the fact that many many people in the US, who have nothing to do with the elections (other than cast their *priceless* votes) have begun talking extensively about the happenings. I’ve seen many blogs (personal blogs) filled with information, views, predictions about the current elections. I wonder what they stand to gain from all this. Would anyone pay them for their views? (Maybe, but 90% of the time, not) Would any of their ramblings matter? (Other than a chain woo-ing system where a person who is totally backing one of the contestants influences more people who knows him to do so too) Would whatever they say, in any way, affect the results of the elections? (Directly… NO!)

So why do they do it? The only explanation that I can come up with is the psychological effect that such discussions have on the people participating in the discussion. Only when you discuss, are opinions put forth. Only when you hear contradicting opinions that your opinions are challenged. When your opinions are challenged to an extent where you have nothing you can say to support yours, it falls. So, an effective speaker can magically change a group of people’s opinions to match his own. Thus, adding more votes to the side he is supporting.

Belief & Trust

Beliefs make you weaker.

I’ve always quoted this example when anyone asked me the truth of the above statement: Imagine you believe in ghosts. You tend to be afraid of them. And fear is weakness.

I’m somebody who strongly believes in the above statement. I do not know how this belief of mine is weakening me. Probably that’s something I’ll never come to know. One direct effect of this in my life has been that, it takes a lot of time for me to believe in something or someone. Not that I tend to become suspicious or become over cautious, yet I’m not totally at comfort with something I don’t believe completely.

One good thing about this in my life has been that I do not believe anything that I hear. Yes, everything that you hear, is third-party information. (This does not include a person’s views about himself/herself; ’cause no one else knows them better.) It becomes especially hard for me to take it when someone is telling me about someone else. Somehow, I’ve never been okay about discussing people. Well, that’s just me. 🙂