Friday, June 29, 2007

Superstitions and Chain Letters

Why oh why do people send these things? Ok, I guess that's more of a rhetorical question. People are superstitious. People engage in magical thinking. I know I have on occasion, though perhaps with the slight difference that I generally knew at the time that was what I was doing. Sometimes this is harmless. Sometimes this can cause great harm indeed.

Sometimes it is just annoying. Chain letters go under the annoying label. When I was a tot, there was no internet (well, there was, but only nerds did much with it and there was no web). So the medium of choice for chain letters was actual letters - you know, the kind with paper and that don't mysteriously disappear from the White House just before being subpeonaed.

I read the letter with amusment. I was probably in elementary school at the time. It breathlessly told me of all of the wonderful things that happened to people who sent the letter on to the required ten others. It also gave dire warning of how if I did not send it on, horrible things would happen to me. So I decided to do an experiment. I figured that if merely not sending the letter was dire, completely destroying it would be even worse. So I took the letter and some matches out onto my front concrete porch and I burned the sucker into tiny bits of ash and then mashed them up and threw them to the wind.

I then patiently waited for the plague or locusts or whatever that would surely come. Well, I waited for about five seconds then went back inside the house and did something else and probably forgot about it for a while. I can safely say, over 25 years later, that nothing particularly bad happened to me for doing that. Sure, life has its ups and downs. I'm sure the superstitious type person would attribute every bad thing that happened after that to the letter (or if they sent it, they'd interpret every good thing as being related). I think that's called observation bias - we tend to remember the hits and forget the misses.

Why am I writing about this? Because I got yet another chain letter today in the current preferred form of the medium - email. From someone I barely know. One of those people who apparently, once they get your email address, add you to some list and then every stupid chain forwarding email they get they forward to everyone in it. Sort of like a virus, only without any actual computer code.

Please, everyone, for the love of all that is holy (or not) - please ask people to stop sending these things. Tell them nothing bad will happen. Tell them it is a waste of time. Maybe if enough people do this, it will stop. (Ok, probably not, but at least I tried).


Maya's Granny said...

When I get a chain letter (and it hasn't happened in a long time), I immediately respond by stating that although I know nothing bad will happen if I don't send them on, apparently the sender believes that it will and is willing to have it happen to me rather than deal with the karma herself. And since I don't wish bad luck on her, she needs to stop wishing it on me.

Erin said...

The best chain letter (the real kind, on actual paper, where you put your address on the list and sent something to the person at the top) I ever got was in high school. Instead of sending postcards to the top person, you sent (new!) underwear. (As an adult, I realize there is a definite need to specify exactly what kind.)

It's the kind of thing that, looking back on it now, is pretty dorky, but at the time was way cool-sounding.

Plus, there were no superstitious consequences for breaking the chain, you just weren't getting any (new!) underwear.

DBB said...

Erin - That's very different - did you actually end up getting panties in the mail? I've never heard of such a thing. It reminds me of the underwear gnomes on South Park, though obviously that is a bit different circumstance (they took underwear - for profit, though how they got there was a bit fuzzy. The plan was: Phase 1: Take underwear Phase 2: ???? Phase 3: Profit. )

Erin said...

I remember that one.

Yes, I did get panties in the mail. I was an exchange student at the time, and many of the people doing the chain were in the program, too, so it was very exotic to get these packages will all kinds of foreign stamps on them.

Now I look back on the whole thing and realize it was probably invented by some creepy old man whose biggest turn-on was imagining teenage girls mailing each other panties.

DBB said...

Interesting creepy old man theory. I'm probably almost old enough to be a creepy old man myself now, well, ok, maybe not THAT old. But 40 is looking closer than I'd like it to.

Still, I don't quite get how one could even know who the chain letter would be sent to and exactly what one would get out of it anyway - I mean, men are generally visual creatures - the abstract knowledge that panties would be exchanged does not lend itself well to that sort of creepiness. If it did, you'd see men wanting to attend bridal showers and such where women exchange frilly things openly.

Besides, who really cares what some creepy person did or did not do as long as you had fun with it? Maybe it was a creepy old lesbian, besides... ;)

And probably the people who potentially had the most "fun" with it were all those foreign customs officials who were trying to figure out where the drugs were hidden in all of these internationally mailed panties...

Jenna Ice said...

I recently decided to experiment the true power of chain letters. I sent an e-mail to a few people on my contact list, and few wrote back and said they hated these things. I told them I did too, but I was just experimenting a theory. Sure enough, by the end of the month, I'd gotten it back three times. But, what amazed me is this: the chain letter said to simply write down the name of your hometown with the name of your country. When I read it for the third time, I saw that it had gotten all the way to KOREA! Amazing at how internationally supersticious people are?

DBB said...

Superstition knows no boundaries, that is true. Though sometimes people add bogus names and locations to chain letters just to make it look like they've gone further than they have. Probably these days, that is less often needed as email makes international communication instantaneous.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm 13, so I haven't been around all that long (God forbid I know more than I'm supposed to, thanks to TV, but anyway), but I've actually gotten random chain letters from people. I conducted an experiment through actual SNAIL MAIL, not email, however wonderful it is, and apparently, it went halfway around Queensland. All I wanted was your first name, and the town you lived in, and that was about it. Now, asking me, that actually REALLY sounds BOGUS. I mean...who wouldn't want to burn my letter up?

DBB said...

I suppose it would be fun to see how far a letter could go, if it really goes that far.