Have something to say? I don’t care

Joel Stein, in the LA Times, questions the current fashion for newspaper interactivity

Don’t email me.

That address on the bottom of this column? That is the pathetic, confused death knell of the once-proud newspaper industry, and I want nothing to do with it. Sending an email to that address is about as useful as sending your study group report about Iraq to the president.

Here’s what my internet-fearing editors have failed to understand: I don’t want to talk to you; I want to talk at you. A column is not my attempt to engage in a conversation with you. I have more than enough people to converse with. And I don’t listen to them either. That sound on the phone, Mom, is me typing.

Where does this end? Does Philip Roth have to put his email at the end of his book? Does Tom Hanks have to hold up a sign with his email at the end of his movie? Should your hotel housekeeper leave her email on your sheets? Are you starting to see how creepy this is?

Not everything should be interactive. A piece of work that stands on its own, without explanation or defense, takes on its own power. If Martin Luther put his 95 Theses on the wall and then all the townsfolk sent him their comments, and he had to write back to all of them and clarify what he meant, some of the theses would have gotten all watered down and there never would have been a Diet of Worms. And then, for the rest of history, elementary school students learning about the Reformation would have nothing to make fun of. You can see how dangerous this all is.

There is no practical reason to send your rants to me. If you want to counter my opinion publicly, write a letter to the editor. If you want me fired, write a letter to the publisher. If you want a note back, write a letter in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Or you could just write mean things about my column on some blog. Don’t worry, I’ll see them. I have a “Joel Stein” RSS feed that goes straight into my arteries.

But don’t make me feel like you expect a return email. Because this takes my assistant four to five hours every week. I know this because my assistant is me.

A lot of email screeds argue that, in return for the privilege of broadcasting my opinion, I have the responsibility to listen to you. I don’t. No more than you have a responsibility to read me. I’m not an elected servant. I’m an arrogant, solipsistic, attention-needy freak who pretends to have an opinion about everything. I don’t have time to listen to you. I barely have time to listen to me.

I’m asking my editors to build a page on where, instead of emailing me, you can write about how arrogant I am. And maybe on this site, one brave person will write about how I’m right to stand up against this world of false, easy community, where columnists pretend they think their essays are no more valuable than yours, and friendship is a stranger who thanks you for the MySpace add.

And I hope that this brave someone else is smart enough to think of a username and IP address that doesn’t reveal that it’s obviously me.

To send your comments on this to Joel Stein, click here to read his full article as published in the Los Angeles Times.