The Secret Life of Emails

mailboxSeveral days ago, a friend sent me an email that somehow disappeared until today, which made me wonder about the secret life of emails, and why sometimes they don’t reach their destination when expected.

Perhaps in this case, the email lost its attachment and had to go searching for it, like a traveler who lost his luggage, retracing its steps backward and forward, until finally it managed to find the attachment hidden in the ether.

Or perhaps the address got smudged and so was routed to the internet version of a dead letter office, where postal bots scoured the contents looking for a clue as to where to send it.

Or perhaps the email decided to take a vacation, zinging from one server to the other, taking a leisurely trip around the world before reluctantly returning to its mundane duty.

Supposedly, emails are not transmitted in their entirety, but are broken into discrete packets of information, all of which are collected and repackaged at the destination. Maybe one of the packets, like the runt of the litter, kept stumbling and falling, while all the other packets impatiently tapped their binary toes, waiting for the laggard to catch up.

Since the packets of information are converted to electronic signals so they can be transmitted from server to server, perhaps this email decided to become something else for a while — a thought or a radio signal. In the end, realizing it can only be what it was created to be, it finally reached its destiny.

I’d intended to end this brief whimsy with an explanation of how information is really transmitted, but I got lost somewhere among the IMAPs, SMTPs, IRCs, TCPs, APIs, BEUIs, SPXs, ASCIIs, EBCDICs, SSLs, OSIs and all the other letters of the alphabet that make up the secret life of emails. If you’re interested, you can find information here.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

3 Responses to “The Secret Life of Emails”

  1. Carrie Rubin Says:

    What a fun read. As you discussed an email being broken into pieces, I couldn’t help but think of the TV-addicted boy in Willy Wonka who transmits himself to another TV unit. Not quite the same thing, but it took my mind there. 🙂

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Giving emails anthropomorphic traits; never thought of doing that before. Very nice, Pat.

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