Saturday, June 26, 2004


Are Friends Electronic Mail? (Hair Thickness and the Strange Case of Lesser Tit)

The following were posts made online to the I Love Music discussion board (I am ‘Lesser Tit’, although the replies are real and from authentic contributors):

In a knittingly louche and idle moment I decided to try and guess my best friend's password for his Hotmail account. The very first word I typed in granted me access ... Well, of course, I logged straight back out, but ... shit! Why can’t I spend my time more constructively? Twelve unread messages ... 106 in his inbox. And will I manage to resist the temptation of logging back in one day? You see, whilst I've known my friend for many years, he's always remained private - infuriatingly so - and somewhat enigmatic. At this moment, I find it hard to reconcile his usual inscrutability with this dashed predictable password. The ‘word’, for the record, is garynuman. It's made me realise how little I know about my friend, apart from his taste in music. I feel a bit curb-crawly; and am beginning to see the irony: one of the main things my friend has chosen to reveal about himself is that he loves Gary Numan, but this precious detail is suddenly the key to knowing a lot more ... Oh, but what if all there is to know is Gary Numan? Whether there is more, or just Gary Numan, once I start reading his mail, will I ever be able to stop? Here are the domestics of how you can help: Does anyone have any ideas how I can get my friend to change his password without me having to confess?
Lesser Tit: July 9th, 2002

Why don't you try, “I got bored the other day and decided to try to guess the password to your Hotmail account. I got it on the first try. You might want to change it”? Sometimes honesty can work.
Dan Perry: July 9th, 2002

Today, I finally did the honourable thing and sent an email to my friend, copying and pasting what Dan suggested upthread: “I got bored the other day and decided to try to guess the password to your Hotmail account. I got it on the first try. You might want to change it”. No reply yet: on visiting his inbox, I see my confession remains unopened. I'm tempted to delete it.
Lesser Tit: June 10th, 2004

Does that mean that you've been reading your friend's email for nearly two years? And that you're still snooping on him at the exact moment that you're confessing to snooping on him?
Dan Perry: June 10th, 2004

In a weird way, I've grown to like my friend even more through my betrayal of him. I've mostly been able to resist opening his mail over the last two years (not that I'm proud), but one or two of the missives I did open, from other people, allowed me to see clearly beyond the mask he routinely sports for me, and I liked what I saw. Also, I have on occasion opened the emails from myself, before he's had a chance to pick them up, and I noticed some things about myself - some good, some not so attractive. In contrast to my friend's correspondence and personal contact with some others, with me it seems he's far more likely to be doing the listening, letting me talk on and over him. And I thought all there was to know was Gary Numan.
Lesser Tit: June 10th, 2004

This thread has the whiff of fiction about it. It’s like a short story by Tibor S. Crow.
Momus: June 10th, 2004

Still no reply, although he must have changed the password - I can't get in.
I expect that immediately after reading my confession, he scanned the subject headings of all the old saved emails in his inbox, and then tentatively opened the Sent Messages folder - no doubt asking himself, from what he knows about me, would I be the sort of person to open them all, or maybe just one or two … Now he is wondering whether or not I know he is cheating on his girlfriend; and wondering if I know he sometimes finds being with me “hard work”, and that he thinks my eyes are “starey”, and that he thinks my hair is like a “mummy’s boy’s” (apparently, the lead singer in a band called Felt actually sacked the drummer simply because he had curly hair, and I know, after reading an email sent to his brother, that that's what my friend would do if he had a band and I, by chance, were in it. He’d sack me for having naturally curly hair, which is something I can’t help, obviously); and he is wondering if I know that he had to undergo surgery to remove an inflamed tubercle from just above his left nipple, and that he had been worried its removal would result in him going prematurely bald (he'd read that such inflammations are caused by excess oestrogen, and he feared, irrationally, that cutting out said tubercle might cause a hormonal coup, leading to a sudden surge of opportunistic testosterone. He wrote to his sister, saying that he was thinking of cancelling the appointment, because if his hair did start to thin after the surgery, he wouldn’t be able to afford the kind of hair transplant treatment that Gary Numan could on his pop star salary); he’s wondering if I know more about him than Gary Numan.
Lesser Tit: June 11th, 2004

Still no reply. And I still can’t get in. After a few attempts, I wasn’t able to guess my friend’s new password, so I decided to exploit a contingency provided by Hotmail, which allows a person to reset their password if they’ve forgotten it: clicking on a button, I was asked to enter my (my friend’s) email address, and then I was asked the secret question that my friend had set when registering. Luckily, I knew that my friend was born in Chester, and so was able to successfully reset his password to one only I would know (six characters minimum, no spaces – not garynuman). I logged into his Hotmail account to discover that my email had indeed been opened. I re-opened it. Although it was electronic, I could almost see crinkles in my note, sustained through the re-reading and re-examination of it by my flabbergasted friend. I began to click between his received and sent messages, and just as I was starting to regret changing his password, knowing that my friend would be denied access to his own account next time he tried to log in, I noticed some movement. My confessional email had suddenly moved from the Inbox to the Trash Can. Clearly, my friend was also present, having logged in before me with the old password I was unable to guess. He had no idea I was near him. There was some more activity - evidence that my friend was still there. It continued for a few minutes, and I felt like I was watching a fawn from a hide in the forest. My friend had emerged into a sunlit glade and, being careful not to cause any disturbance, I was able to marvel at him amongst the wild flowers and toadstools. The internet is odourless – no space you occupy can ever be downwind - so as long as I didn’t start clicking on buttons in a way that would change the layout of the in and outboxes, I knew I would remain undetected. I stayed there until I was sure he had gone. I felt sad because I knew my friend had logged out of his own account for the last time. He would never be able to return. The fawn had strayed out of the forest - now roadkill - and I was left alone in the habitat where it once gambolled. The old saved emails, all of which I had read by now, creaked like the boughs on dead trees. The parasitical tick of my interest, having been attached to the fawn, had now dropped from the cadaver onto the roadside, and it was crawling slowly back into the forest, where I would be the only eligible host.
Lesser Tit: June 12, 2004

I logged in again today. A sapling has appeared.
I went directly into my friend’s inbox, where the new message was highlighted to indicate it was unread. It was from an old girlfriend – someone I knew my friend had courted whilst at school. He had mentioned her to me once over a drink, saying he had never stopped caring for her, and I’d remembered it because it was so unusual for my friend to confide in me. “Hi Lee, I was given your address by Chris Lamoon when we met at the reunion party last night. He told me why you were unable to come. I was so sorry to hear your awful news. Please be strong - you have to be strong … ” Awful news?! Be strong?! I had apparently underestimated the extent to which the news that I’d been snooping on my friend would affect him … And who is Chris Lamoon? Lee has never mentioned that name to me. Someone he still sees in person, I should imagine, because I haven’t once seen an email to or from a Chris Lamoon over the past two years. She continued: “A few years ago, my mum was also diagnosed with breast cancer, but she has made a complete recovery. If you’re feeling well enough, perhaps we could meet up. It’s good you’ve stayed in contact with Chris – he’s a good friend. He says you’ve always been there for him. Maybe Chris could come to – it would be great to catch up? My number is …” Also diagnosed!? With cancer!? It’s only a tubercle … “Benign” – “nothing to worry about”: this was what he had reported to his sister last year, in an email sent shortly after the results had come back from the lab. I was right about Chris – Lee and he must still see each other. I clicked on the reply button and wrote the following: “Cancer? I would know if it was cancer. Who is Chris?” Seconds after impetuously sending off my reply, the thought of its brusque tone made me wince, and I realised that without a signature, it would, of course, look like Lee himself had sent it to his ex-girlfriend. She was unlikely to conclude that it had been drafted by a tetchy, increasingly disorientated friend, who had hacked into his account. I quickly sent this as a chasing reply: “I mean, am I dying or something? It’s great to hear from you. Yes I still see Chris. Nothing’s changed - we both still love Gary Numan’s music. Love Lee”.
Lesser Tit: June 13th, 2004 (morning)

One new message in Lee's inbox. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Lee – I might have misunderstood. Or perhaps Chris has got it horribly, horribly wrong. I thought you had to undergo a radical mastectomy last year, but you've since been told the cancer has come back and spread … Chris said you're having more chemotherapy, but it's making you suffer so much you're thinking of stopping the treatment. I'm sorry that it took this sort of news for me to get back in touch after so many years. I almost didn't. I hoped you wouldn't still be angry with me. Please, Lee, I don’t want to stick my nose in, but I think it would be best if you told your family the truth at this stage - you need to share your burden with the people who love you most. I know your mum is frail, but she would want to know. You could at least tell your sister. I remember you once told me that she was your best friend. And I really want to be there for you right now, as a friend. I promise I won't ask you to dredge up the past - you have enough to think about. You are not dying - you can beat it. P.S. I didn't know you were into Gary Numan?” Why had Lee decided to tell me about Gary Numan and not her? Perhaps he wasn't a fan of Gary Numan's at school - when they were together. I didn’t reply.
Lesser Tit: June 13th, 2004 (evening)

I can’t get in! I tried re-typing the new password, the one I had set, but it must have been changed. In desperation, I typed in the old password – garynuman - although I wasn’t surprised when this failed to work.
Lesser Tit: June 14th, 2004

I still can’t get in. It’s clear now what has happened. Once I had managed to log into my friend’s account, after having changed the password to one only I would know, I neglected to then also change the secret question, which would have safeguarded the account forever. My friend probably assumed he had forgotten the fresh password he had set a few days earlier and apparently opted to follow the same resetting procedure I had pursued so cynically, summoning up his secret question; and the question would still have been “Where were you born?”. And the answer would still have been “Chester”. He has evidently changed the password to something only he knows. On finding the messages I exchanged with his ex-girlfriend, he must have moved quickly to change the secret question. The new question, which is not actually a question at all, simply says: “Never contact me again”.
Lesser Tit: June 15th, 2004