Variety

You have my name, I have your mail!

CHITRA NARAYANAN | Updated on May 16, 2012 Published on April 12, 2012

lf13chitterati.JPG

lf13 chitra.JPG

The curious case of an inbox flooded with namesakes' mails.

Psmith, a character from P.G. Wodehouse novels, spelt his name with a P because Smith was, oh, so common. I am thinking of doing something similar. Jchitra. Kchitra. Or in an African motif, maybe even Mchitra. Why? Well, because, I have a serious problem. I think 923,057 people seem to have the same name. In school and college I basked in the relative anonymity afforded by the common name — who wants to stand out with an outlandish name anyway? But now that it is interfering with my work, it's irksome.

For many of the people I share my name with also have very similar email ids. So I am constantly getting emails meant for others. Indeed, the much cavilled at India Post's record of mail delivery looks pretty good when I look at the number of wrong emails landing in my inbox.

So I have had an Australian landscape designer pitching new turfs and wall edgings to me. After a few hilarious exchanges, I found that it was meant for a namesake Down Under. “You clearly have the better email id,” he said good humouredly, after realising that he had been typing a wrong address.

I have had a school kid thanking me for helping him profusely in his board exams. Turns out it was meant for a teacher in Chennai. I get progress updates meant for a development activist in Bangalore area.

I keep getting mailers for school reunions in Bhopal and alumni reminiscences — wonderful stuff, except — thank heaven — they are all strangers.

Luxurious 5-star hotels where I have never stayed in (and don't think will ever be able to afford) are making me their preferred member and I get book contracts for books I have never written. They are meant for India's ambassador in Berne, whose domestic staffing problems sometimes get directed to me. Not bad going. At this rate, I could live off my virtual and nomenclatural doppelgangers — like that Priyadarshan movie where the wrong number leads to a hilarious money trail.

And of course, it's not a one-way traffic here — one of my namesakes — a lawyer who I have befriended, keeps getting press releases, which she forwards to me. Hopefully, she won't miss sending me the one which has a serious news break! But then when did news breaks come through press releases?

The scary thing is that for companies conscious of email security and confidentiality, human error and addresses typed carelessly is just one part. Services such as Gmail which second guess addresses (even though it is convenient for a user) are promoting carelessness and compounding the error — so a person who is likely to have sent a wrong email to me, is likely to keep sending because Gmail takes over and offers the name even before you have keyed it in fully. That's why the landscaper is still emailing me and the lawyer's in-laws still keep inviting me to family vacations.

And there does seem to be some sort of glitch in Google's Mail Service. Through a techie friend, I took up the issue of wrong emails coming to me (which were clearly addressed to some other email and yet landed in my inbox) with Google — only to learn that the dot in an email id is apparently inconsequential and ignored. So, suppose you have an id kamal.singh and an id without a dot, Gmail says they are one and the same. Here's Google's official note on it: “Gmail doesn't recognise dots as characters within usernames; you can add or remove the dots from a Gmail address without changing the actual destination address.” For good measure it tells me that every dotted variant of my name now belongs to me. Hurrah. But if that were the case then why did it allow two ids — one with dot and one without — to be created? Rather daft… and alarming. The other quibble with Gmail I have is the way it is increasingly trying to dictate my emails. If you key in an address, it promptly suggests you could cc the mail to a few other people.

But why? I don't need some software telling me to whom I should send copies of my mail. It's also started telling me which mails are important and why — “Important because of the people”; “Important because of the conversation”. Hello?

Snail mail services such as India Post must be watching and laughing.

Published on April 12, 2012
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor