More and more people are using e-mail all the time, 
which means new e-mail users are being created every day, 
which means that ontegeny is recapitulating phylogeny 
in some sort of hypertechnological way.
   I am going to attempt to short-circuit some Of the recapitulation. 
I am going to attempt to shorten the learning curve.
   First of all, virus warnings. I do understand how scary they are;
 the first time I got one, I got all freaked out and sent it on to a 
bunch of people as a public service. Since then, many virus warnings 
have come through my e-mail box. They are almost always sent to 
everyone on the personal email list of the sender; they almost always 
seem authoritative. Nevertheless, here is One True Fact: You cannot
 get a virus merely by opening email. Period. Computer viruses are 
not airborne. You can't contract them merely by looking at them.

   My friend Robert Rossney has written a cranky but accurate form 
reply to the innocent yet clueless senders of virus warnings. I 
repeat it here as a public service.

   "You can only get a virus from running a program. You can get a 
virus if someone e-mails you a program and you run the program. 
That's the only way you can get a virus via email. An e-mail message 
like the one you have sent me, which preys on the fears of people 
innocent of the workings of their computers,is itself a virus. It 
encourages you to infect everyone you know with it. It doesn't erase 
anyone's disk; it just spreads fear. The only way to inoculate 
oneself from the damage this virus causes is to understand the way 
that computers and viruses work. A virus is a PROGRAM. You most RUN A
 PROGRAM in order for it to have any effect. READING A MAIL MESSAGE 
IS NOT RUNNING A PROGRAM."

          All clear? Good.

         
   THE SECOND POINT has to do with Net humor. Some of the jokes, 
poems, lists and parodies that circle the earth every millisecond are
 very funny - the first time.

   You cannot, Of course, know whether your correspondents have seen 
your bit of Net humor before. But here's a clue: They probably have. 
Additionally, depending on their particular setup, they may actually 
be spending money to store and/or read the joke they have already 
seen that you have sent them again.     
               
   Additionally, many of the jokes are actual copyrighted material. 
Dave Barry columns are forever turning up without attribution. 
Stories from the online humor magazine The Onion (www.theonion.com)
 are also popular. Dr. Seuss parodies and amusing nerd haikus often 
had real authors who hoped, at the very least, to see their names 
attached to their work.

   I don't want to spoil your fun. I know that the workday is long 
and chances for chuckles are few. But please, use discretion. When 
you've seen (say) the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe for the 10th time,
 you'll have some understanding of the irritation you may have 
inadvertently caused.

   Just because it's easy doesn't mean you should do it,
        as your mother told you more than once.

         
   Third, be aware that people read e-mail in many ways.
Specifically, if you are using HTML coding in your e-mail, 
understand that everyone who is not using a browser sees a bunch of 
techno-garbage that substantially detracts from the content of the message.


        
         
         jon carroll, S.F. Chronicle columnist


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