I got the email address cyn­thia at mindspring.com back in 1995. Nobody else had ever had it, and nobody but me had that address up until some time in 2002 when I final­ly can­celed my Mind­Spring account. Dur­ing that time, I think I received email intend­ed for just about every woman named Cyn­thia who had an Earth­link, Mind­Spring, or Pipeline account. Throw in more from Mind­Spring users to some­one named Cyn­thia on anoth­er system–they for­got to put in the domain name and it came to me by default. It wasn’t usu­al­ly a big deal–I replied to the sender and they’d cor­rect the prob­lem. I did have trou­ble with some­body who kept insist­ing that he’d been promised the address cynthia@mindspring.com for his girl­friend when he opened his account and want­ed to know why I was get­ting her mail, but he was a wacko.

I didn’t get angry or annoyed with these folks–not at first, any­way. I just sent back a friend­ly note explain­ing their error. I received sev­er­al very nice love let­ters, and wrote back to the gen­tle­men thank­ing them but explain­ing that I hes­i­tat­ed to accept their pro­pos­als as we hadn’t even been intro­duced! I gen­er­al­ly got a rather sheep­ish reply. One young man asked if I thought the let­ter would be okay to send to his sweetie–apparently he’d real­ly sweat­ed over it, the first love let­ter he’d ever writ­ten (and I told him it was beau­ti­ful, of course).

The weirdo who decid­ed I was get­ting his girlfriend’s email out of spite or some­thing was an odd­i­ty. One fam­i­ly did some­thing funky with their nick­names in Eudo­ra Light and I kept get­ting cc’d on every­thing they sent to some of their friends–I did get a lit­tle bit touchy after the 15th email that kept com­ing after I sent them sev­er­al emails ask­ing them to check their address books, and even explain­ing how to do it–and then they want­ed to know why I was read­ing their email! Actu­al­ly that has hap­pened twice–the first time was while I still worked at Mind­Spring, though, and I final­ly called them up and walked them through fix­ing the address book. One gal had my email address in the head­ers of her news­group pro­gram for a while after tran­si­tion­ing from Pipeline–I don’t know if she’d been cynthia@pipeline.com before or some­thing, but I got quite a few email replies to her news­group posts. Again, I just sent back a polite note let­ting the folks know they should get a cor­rect­ed address from her or just reply in the news­group. For sev­er­al years anoth­er woman repeat­ed­ly for­got that her email address includ­ed her last ini­tial, and kept giv­ing my address as a con­tact point for her band. After about the third time that I wrote explain­ing to her that poten­tial book­ings would be lost if she didn’t stop, she got angry because I wouldn’t sim­ply act as her sec­re­tary and send along any­thing that looked like it might be hers.

As time went on, I received more and more mes­sages with dire warn­ings at the bot­tom that the includ­ed infor­ma­tion was only for the intend­ed recip­i­ent, and insist­ing that if that wasn’t me then I shouldn’t have been read­ing it and was not per­mit­ted to use the infor­ma­tion in the mes­sage. Well hel­lo — the mes­sage was sent to a mail­ing address that was and always had been mine, so why wouldn’t I read it and make any use I want­ed to of the infor­ma­tion there­in?

I must admit that I did send email to the wrong per­son once–I for­got that the intend­ed recip­i­ent had his own domain host­ed at Mind­Spring, and didn’t real­ize that some­one else had his address at the mindspring.com domain. No great harm done there. I’ve nev­er sent out any mis­di­rect­ed love let­ters, and cer­tain­ly no accounts of sex­u­al encoun­ters (some things a lady just doesn’t com­mit to print any­way). I fig­ure only those of us with email address­es that are com­mon first names, like cyn­thia, robert, drew, rob­bie, charles, etc. got this sort of mail in most cas­es. And in most cas­es, we were cur­rent or for­mer Mind­Spring employ­ees or very long-time Mind­Spring customers–it isn’t very com­mon to have such email address­es now that they have so many users.

Still, after some of this stuff intend­ed for oth­ers, take it from me–there are some details of your life that just shouldn’t be com­mit­ted to print, okay? Nobody but the par­ties who were there at the time needs to know the pre­cise details of your sex life! Espe­cial­ly when you’re screw­ing around on a spouse (yes, the sit­u­a­tion in the email I received which final­ly inspired this arti­cle). At least PGP encrypt that kind of stuff or some­thing. Please!

By the time I received that one I was no longer sur­prised by mis­di­rect­ed email–it was sim­ply the very explic­it (and legal­ly sen­si­tive, if some­one were in divorce pro­ceed­ings) nature of this par­tic­u­lar mis­di­rect­ed email that gave me pause. It does seem such con­tent would be wor­thy of more care–but then since I wouldn’t ever com­mit such things to print, I sup­pose I’m not the one to ask.

I did get an email once from a Mind­Springer intend­ed for her lawyer! It was obvi­ous­ly a dis­cus­sion of some­thing per­tain­ing to a sex­u­al harass­ment law­suit or some­thing sim­i­lar. You know what they say about every­body being three peo­ple away from know­ing every­one in the world? I knew the guy she was suing–he’s an old beau. I hadn’t spo­ken to him in about six months, but when I con­tact­ed him I found that an incom­pe­tent employ­ee he’d had to fire had filed such a suit. I for­ward­ed the email to him and his lawyer, as it con­tained some very help­ful infor­ma­tion. After a lit­tle meet­ing about the email, lit­tle miss twit dropped the law­suit. It saved my friend’s com­pa­ny a great deal of mon­ey, and him a lot of has­sle and poten­tial dam­age to his career. All because of a mis­di­rect­ed email. So remem­ber, be care­ful what you write!

Orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten Sep­tem­ber 12, 1997