Under the counter with Lindsay Calder

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The Independent Online
I can do it. Last week I finally got to grips with it, and now I'm winging electronic missives all over the world. I've decided that an e-mail facility is as important to a girl as lipstick and a little black book.

When I discovered how to check out my mailbox, it started flashing at me, and a whole reel of messages scrolled up on the screen - 49 of them, in fact. I have to admit that many of them were from my "server" - Virgin Net - there was even one from Richard Branson himself. The mail isn't apparently sitting there on a shelf behind your computer screen - it's sort of hovering up in the sky somewhere, waiting to be beamed down.

Anyway, now that I know how to "connect", "send" and "reply", I have yet another distraction to stop me working when I'm at home. Not only do I have to check the post and answerphone when I get in, but now there are e-mails too. This is OK if you have got mail and messages, but if there's nothing, it's a bit of a triple-nobody-loves-me-whammy. I received one message from a friend entitled "Nobby No-Mate". He hadn't received mail for months, and ended his message >Please reply before I jump - he had copied it to 17 people.

E-mails in a relationship can be confusing. Far from being the electronic love letters of the Nineties, there is something very unemotional about them. You find yourself writing like Doctor Spock: >see you. 7pm. Kings Head > confirm.

A non-verbal request for a date fills you with uncertainty - will they turn up? Then it's difficult to interpret the message itself. On the phone you can usually tell from the tone of voice, but there are no such clues with e-mail. Does, for instance: >can we meet tonight? mean "because I've decided it's over, but I'd better tell you in person", or "because I can't stop thinking about you and I want your body now". No way of knowing. No matter how hard you try to read between the electronic lines, the subtle nuances of the telephone conversation are just not there.

On the phone, you can sort of play it by ear - so to speak - hedge your bets, change your mind at the last minute, but once you've written your e-mail and clicked on "send", that's it. You can't go rummaging around in the back of your computer to try and retrieve it, or click on "undo". An ex-colleague, who fancied Mr Handsome in the office, finally decided to bite the bullet, be a Nineties woman, and ask him out - by e-mail. So, one spontaneous Friday morning, she sent him an outrageously flirty message about meeting up that evening. By 6pm Friday, no reply - he worked on another floor, so she didn't see him. She then spent the whole weekend curled up in shame on her sofa, bitterly regretting her rash clicking of "send". She crept into the office on Monday morning, mortified and nauseous, only to find she had new mail - her message had been returned by the Mail Administrator - undeliverable. She wept with joy, crying "There is a God in cyberspace".

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