Somewhere between weeks three and four of quarantine, I was tagged in a chain letter on Instagram. Because I “liked” the photo of the person participating, I received a message informing me that – surprise! – it was now my turn to post a photo in the same spirit of the original and then continue the chain or else bad luck would befall me.
Admittedly, I don’t remember the theme of the photo at hand. Was it an embarrassing photo? Something old? Was there a costume involved? Who’s to say. And admittedly, I don’t remember the person who posted it. They were but the first of many. But I do remember the feeling I had: apprehension, a small dash of anxiety and the general sentiment of not wanting to participate in the slightest. So in the end, I didn’t. As an adult, I know that bad luck will inevitably always befall us at some point, and that nobody will be spared simply because they upheld a chain letter. Chain letters exist in the same camp as “everything happens for a reason” – they’re a means for us to harbour a sense of control amidst having absolutely none.
While in the middle of a pandemic, this need is understood. We know we’re at the mercy of something gargantuan, so tapping into the “fun” mentality that averting bad luck is possible if we just buy into superstition makes sense. Of course, we want to feel in control of our circumstances. We want to tell ourselves the little lie that playing it safe will ensure our well-being or happiness. We want it to be as easy as posting a photo or sharing an e-mail or copying this or pasting that. We deserve a damn break. Who’s to say magical thinking can’t be helpful? Who’s to say that because I ignored an Instagram chain, my grocery bags won’t break on my way home? “What if” is a powerful bargaining tool.
But my laziness and complete disinterest in perpetuating the forced responsibility of sharing a chain letter outranks my fear of what if. I don’t want to feel compelled to share something if I don’t want to. I don’t want to post anything that doesn’t interest me. I don’t want to annoy my pals by giving them something else to do that means absolutely nothing – even if they’re at home doing absolutely nothing. Our existing bandwidth shouldn’t be occupied by revived Y2K-era e-mail trends, adapted to suit 2020. We are grown-ups now. Chain letters are no longer fun.
Maybe that’s what makes me most annoyed about chain letters, posts and any and all things related: They have never have been fun. Even in the nineties, when we were just starting to dip our toes into the wide world of the internet, to receive a chain letter was to receive a curse. “Pass this along to X number of people, or your world will fall apart!” “Send this to X, and your crush will love you!” “Share this with X people, and at 10:43 p.m., something magical will happen!” Of course, nothing ever did, and my crush ended up resenting me for sending him that chain letter to begin with.
True, chain letters and posts aren’t hurting anybody. No one has threatened me, telling me that I better share the chain “or else,” nor have I been badgered to carry on this thing that’s entirely meaningless. But I resent the idea that this means of communication is supposed to be a good time; that instead of simply talking to my pals, I should send them nothing-content and assume they’ll be happy to get it as a way for us to pass quarantine time. “Do this thing and you’ll be lucky!” is a strange message to fly the flag for, particularly since everything feels so scary and precarious. I’d rather we all just send jokes or chat.
I will admit that not all chain premises are terrible: Earlier this week, one of my close friends sent a recipe chain, where recipients were asked to send a recipe to the first name on a list and then pass the original e-mail along before adding their own name to the bottom of the list. I liked the idea of interacting in a way that’s supposed to make us feel closer via the sharing of meal. Of course, I did not end up sending a recipe, because I am lazy. But for the record, I think the premise of recipe share is actually super fun.
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