November 27, 2008

email trouble in 1K

by Nick Montfort · , 8:55 pm

e-mail troublee-mail trouble: love & addiction @ the matrix
By S. Paige Baty
University of Texas Press
167 pp.

e-mail trouble, published after the author’s death from a heroin overdose in 1997, deals with email addiction in an autobiographical, feminist mode. The odd subtopic interested me – as if someone wrote a book about being strung out on Gopher or desperately seeking a USENET fix. This book does offer a testimony of what mid-1990s email correspondence was like, representing it in an already distant but revenant way. Baty’s intriguing and often amusing voice works through fragments and quotations from books, emails, and personals, unfolding a journey that ends in semi-apocalyptic New Orleans. Some email snippets remain familiar (why did the chicken cross the road?) while others ring true as student pleas or hit-and-miss correspondence. Many are as interesting as the “real” letters that Baty loved. The book really offers lasting commentary on the uprooted, isolated life of a junior faculty member. Email may have failed the author, but the real failure recounted here is that of the ivory tower of first life.