Sometimes when asked what I am doing all day long, the answer is quite simple. I am an answering machine. I answer emails all day long. It is rather strange though, all the questions I am getting asked I answered already in class. But I can answer them again and again; another email is just five minutes away. The questions are all somehow banal: When are the essays due? A question I answered maybe a trillion times. Nevertheless the next email addressing this topic will probably arrive while I am typing this. Then there is an endless stream of banalities wrapped in question marks: they include lengthy and always boring explanations why the student couldn’t do a certain assignment and or didn’t show up for class. I am tired of reading about fake dead- grandmother’s, fake-ill pets and fake diseases. I couldn’t care less. I always wonder why people make such an effort to state such a banal fact: They don’t care, so they didn’t do what they were supposed to do. I got that, right. Why do I have to bother now and write politely to pay respect to non-existent grand-mothers, to wish the best for diseases that have never existed or to contemplate about the fate of a non-existent pet. I am really not interested in those stories, especially because they are not well written nor do they have any plot. Sometimes I wonder, all these students grew up with the internet, didn’t they? But the email’s you see do not reflect what you would imagine under a Digital Native. Rarely their writing follows any rules or standards, abbreviations are the rule and not the exception and I find it harder and harder to even conquer a salutation. Hi is already a great devotion of time and effort, while no one ever bothered to begin with “ Dear Read On.” What a waste of time and letters. But last week something very curious happened. A student, I already forgot the excuse – wasn’t able to hand in his assignment. Sure I said, send it to me. The result: I got an empty email, with the text attached. If being a digital native means that you don’t need any manners at all, well that certainly is a new level of existence. Maybe it has nothing to do with digital native or not at all, maybe it is just a perception of a reality where all other’s are just service provider’s available 24/7, needed just to served a certain- your-purpose. When I started teaching in an university I thought people would write email’s looking for book recommendations or to discuss Foucault’s sweater’s. But I could not have been more wrong. These email’s however, have never arrived.
But I can still consider myself happy. Friend A. who teaches at a university in the US, once dared not to answer an email sent to her on Friday evening till Sunday morning. When trying to explain to the student, who was complaining bitterly that she keeps Shabbat, she was asked and without any hint of consciousness or irony: When will you convert?” We were both laughing back then. But it might have been to not admit the sadness that inevitably comes along with all those emails we answer day after day and all day long.