Another Side of Dave

Dave Pondering

Who's the Boss

A View from the Cube

The funny thing about joke e-mail is everyone gets it...
The Boston Globe - March 9, 2003

I just read the funniest thing. It was an e-mail forwarded to me (and 23 others) by a man who received it from a man who received it from a woman who received it from another man who received it from a woman, all of whom cc'ed it to a large group of people. I read the e-dresses as I scrolled to the text.

The e-mail was funny. It made me chuckle at my computer in my home office, where I'm supposed to be working, and it came at precisely the right time. I've got a project due yesterday, and could use the laugh. Here's the best part: if I forward that e-mail to 24 close friends, good luck and extra income will come my way. Which might be especially important this week, given the status of the aforementioned project.

Every work day, I log onto my computer to find eight or nine e-mails containing jokes, comic bits, and funny lists. For the most part, they are crass, insensitive, vulgar, and politically incorrect. I get a big kick out of most of them. Often, I get attachments featuring photographs to infect my computer with viruses, and remind me that a.) It’s amazing what people can do with snowmen, and b.) If I'm ever accidentally naked in public, I pray there are no digital cameras around.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who receives several of these entertaining e-mails a day. Through painstaking research (e-mailing my friends), I have developed a profile of those who receive funny e-mails. According to the data, the demographic is ''people with computers.''

Just as computer games have replaced social interaction for both small children and adult males in their 30s, e-mail has replaced the office water cooler as a place to trade bits of ''instant message'' conversation, silly wit, and the passing around of provocative pictures. Consider the case, told by one who was there, of the secretary at a Boston law firm who - sitting in a public spot, with the department head nearby - opened an attachment that turned out to be a naked beefcake photo.

As the embarrassed secretary fumbled to delete the file, the boss tried to politely slip away. As he did, he heard a young female associate say, ''Could you send me a copy of that?''

For many, these funny e-mails represent a welcome respite from the rigors of the working day, albeit a time-consuming one. I once kept an activity log, detailing the time I spent on various endeavors, and was amazed at the amount of time I spent reading funny e-mails. It was so alarming; I had to stop keeping the log.

Some companies are not big fans of this kind of e-mail. Concerned with viruses and space-consuming attachments, they have set up ''Spam detectors'' and created policies about deleting e-mail from unknown senders. A chief operating officer at a north-of-Boston manufacturing company says he's concerned with viruses, but not about a loss of employee time. ''Most of our people are working 50- or 60-hour weeks; they don't have time,'' he says. A training consultant from a Natick firm told me, ''If you got these jokes by regular mail, they'd go right in the trash.''

Those who send and receive these bits of wired wit see benefits, however. As one advertising salesperson asked rhetorically, ''Is there value to humor in the middle of the day? Very much so, in my opinion.'' She added that she and her boss would sometimes exchange funny e-mail.

A top lieutenant at one small company took that a step further. The company's boss was on a vacation cruise and would check his e-mail from an ''Internet room'' open to the public. His employee knew this, so sent the boss an attachment slugged ''greetings from the staff.'' The boss opened the message and found the image of a bevy of topless beauties.

''We knew it would embarrass him; that was the point,'' the lieutenant said. ''He got a good laugh out of it.''

Those who send and receive these missives can be broken down into three categories: big senders, occasional senders, and those who only receive. Senders forward a limitless supply, many each day. Receivers don't encourage the senders, proclaiming that they'd rather not get joke e-mail, and that they never read them. A few minutes later, they tell you about the one where the drunk walked into the bar.

If you read joke e-mails, you will come across drunks walking into bars, meetings with St. Peter outside the pearly gates, and other timeless classics. Old jokes abound.

Some groups are favorite targets. Blondes, beauty queens, and middle-aged white men take a beating. Also the president, no matter who is in office. Silly quotes are always in fashion. If he knew how many times this 1996 item journeyed the e-mail superhighway, football broadcaster Joe Theisman would surely rue the day he said, ''Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.''

As often happens in football, he missed by inches.

I also recently discovered several theories on why the chicken crossed the road, a question that has baffled scholars for decades. My e-mail correspondents allege conservative leader Pat Buchanan believed its purpose was, ''To steal a job from a decent, hard-working American.'' They also claim author Ernest Hemingway felt it crossed the road, ''To die. In the rain. Alone.''

For me, funny e-mail is another example of how the computer can serve as a source of information. Just this week, I learned the ''helpful hint'' that if you are clumsy, you can ''avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away!'' I was also informed that ''a mousetrap placed on top on of your alarm clock will prevent you from rolling over and going back to sleep.''

Humor isn't the only thing coming to my home office mail box. I also receive important e-mail - like the one from the fellow waiting for the project that was due yesterday - and I try to address it within a few days. (''I'm surprised you didn't receive it. Is your server working correctly?'')

Mostly, I consider funny e-mail the electronic equivalent of a smile and a wave. It's a way for people to say, ''hello,'' without any face-to-face or telephone contact. Which is good, because with all the time I spend e-mailing I've got no more to waste on actual human contact.

Finally, let me share the experience of a friend who is not a fan of e-mail jokes but finds them preferable to the ''sappy'' inspirational messages that he and his wife used to receive, from another couple. ''It was bad for awhile,'' he said. ''Thank God we changed our e-mail address and didn't tell them about it.''

They could take a joke, but not electronic hearts and flowers.

The Writer