Editor Howard Saltz 

E-MAIL'S SUCCESSOR: T-MAIL

A Whimsical Look At the Future Of Data Delivery


Published: August 28, 2000


by Howard Saltz


E-mail was fine for a while, but being tied to a stationary PC was so limiting. Laptops and wireless Palm units provided freedom, but the problem with such hand-held devices is simply that: You have to hold them. What a chore.


Coming soon is micro-display, a technology that can provide PC-quality images from a device so small it could fit in a pair of eyeglasses, allowing us to roam, hands-free, while still being plugged into the world of news and information.


Of course, the battery charge eventually expires. And eyeglasses bulky enough to incorporate a device weighing even a few ounces come with a fairly high dork factor.


Besides, micro-display devices won't solve the time problem: As with stationary PCs, Palms, Web-ready cell phones, and anything else that relies on electronic transmission of data, we are forced to wait and wait and wait for the news we urgently need. The seconds just drag on. Like seconds.


The solution: Forget about e-mail. The future is t-mail.


That's right, telepathic mail. All the news and information you want, delivered directly to your brain. We'll simply call it t-mail, because who has time to waste on all those extra syllables?


It's an age when nanoseconds count. When we're too lazy to go to the front doorstep, retrieve the newspaper, and -- ugh -- turn the pages to get the news. We certainly don't have the time to wait for e-mailed stock quotes, baseball scores, and traffic updates.


That's where t-mail comes in. You want to know the latest price of a Microsoft share? You already do.


Sure, it sounds far-fetched. And yet, you have to wonder whether some companies aren't already working on it. (It's too tempting not to.) Consider:


  • The government restricts cigarette advertising? T-mail the ads.


  • Software blocks 'spam' advertising? T-mail around it.


  • Don't want the wife to know you've been cruising porn sites on that new PC you insisted on getting so you could pay bills and stay informed? Get all the smut you want, without a trace.


Arguably, Madison Avenue has been t-mailing for years. Subliminal advertising is a t-mail system, although a primitive one. Solve the technological problems, get the message delivered directly into the consumer's cranium, and you have a more efficient version.


The advantages are terrific: Marketing people would no longer have to waste all that time and money filming commercials and buying air time to merely plant suggestions. Instead, we consumers will know, without any doubt, that using certain brands of toothpaste will result in sexual encounters with attractive strangers.


There are t-commerce applications, too. What's the point of knowing Microsoft's share price at the very instant it changes if you can't buy it? Do a t-trade; day trading will become as antiquated as shareholder dividends.


Make a t-bid at an online auction and you won't have to watch as some guy who's faster on the keyboard snares overpriced junk from the 18th century.


Concerned the lowest air fare is, in fact, lower than the lowest air fare quoted on a lowest-air-fare Web site five seconds ago? With t-mail, it won't be as low as the one you just found out about.


While the idea of telepathic communication has generally been the stuff of fiction -- OK, and perhaps the research-and-development guys at some tech companies you should probably invest in -- there is at least a basis in science.


Sound waves, created when molecules collide with one another, disappear shortly thereafter. This is good news to anyone who has listened to the radio lately. By contrast, light waves continue to propagate, which is why scientists can see events in distant galaxies centuries after they occur.


And, according to David Nesbitt, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder, brain waves share some characteristics with light waves. Information is transmitted through the body via a flow of electrically charged material. In principle, these fluctuating electrical fields generate some equivalent of light.


As such, these waves – thoughts -- could continue to wave on, although very weakly, as they move from the body. Forever.


The good news: The thoughts of Thomas Jefferson might still be out there. The bad news: Your thoughts about your boss might still be out there, too.


To make t-mail work, all we have to do is capture these quickly spreading waves of thought and amplify them. The tricky part would be directing them to the correct recipient. But even if we can't figure that out, it wouldn't be any worse than e-mail spam.


Anyone who signed up for those cheap long-distance rates and is still plagued by wrong numbers and telemarketers could appreciate even a flawed t-mail system. Your brain might be bombarded with nonsense, but at least the call would be free.


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Howard Saltz is the electronic media editor of The Denver Post.