Skip to content

Rodney would like to recall the message: “Tom Hanks Was An Idiot”

February 2, 2017

It was billed as a romantic comedy. And back in 1998 it was. That’s because we had no idea that it was poisoning our entire society. In “You’ve Got Mail,” Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan play characters whose online life eventually conflicts with real life with funny and eventually romantic results. The premise is based around the fact that they meet online and only know each other by their screen names: NY152 and Shopgirl. At the time it was a clever premise. Not the least reason being because they are both involved with literature and yet neither one has a problem with the villain constantly berating them with the grammatically incorrect phrase “You’ve got mail.”

Yes, America Online, the ubiquitous email and ISP from the late nineties is the villain in this story. At least with the benefit of nearly 20 years hindsight it is clear that email is the enemy.

I say they met online, but really, they just met over email. In fact, back in 1998 the “online” experience was limited tobulletin  board systems (BBS), kind of an early version of Facebook without the funny cat videos and email.

I was working for Microsoft in the late 1990s on their email projects. First with Microsoft Mail and then the early versions of Exchange and Outlook. I remember trying to convince my mother to install Exchange for her small CPA office.

We don’t need email. We have plenty of those pink “While you were out” message pads.

I made her a promise.

Let me install email and if after one month your staff doesn’t like it, I’ll take it out.

A month later I went to see my mother.

So, how did the email trial go? Still want me to take it out?

My staff said if I let you remove it they’d all quit.

Back in the 1990s email was cool. It was the Snapchat, Facebook and Texting of its day.


Now, it’s the bain of my existence. It goes in the category of trips to the dentist and meeting with your CPA: necessary tasks that you would eliminate if you could.

I helped Microsoft implement the MESSAGE RECALL feature. I previously worked for WordPerfect, whose misnamed product “WordPerfect Office” was an email server that provided for seemless message recall. We often called it the “Save your job” feature. After I switched to Microsoft I had the toughest time getting the program managers to see the value of it.

Who would even want this? I mean, if you think about it, when you drop a letter into a blue Post Office mailbox, you can’t just reach your hand in and pull it back.

Yes! That’s the point. That’s why you should add it. It makes email work better than snail mail.

Eventually, I convinced them. Or the marketplace did. Now, if you recall a message that you’ve sent to someone on your company email, it will either tell you it can’t recall it, because they’ve opened it. Or, it will silently delete it out of the other person’s mailbox.

However, if you try to recall a message that you sent to someone at another company, your recall attempt posts a message to their email saying:

Rodney would like to recall the message titled: “Review This Before Sending To Client”

It used to be that when you got a Message Recall notification it made you just a little curious. (Or a lot curious) about what was in the original message. Even if all it said was “Cookies by the printer.” You still wanted to knwo what was so secret that you weren’t supposed to see.

At some point that excited faded. I get 75-100 emails per day in addition to the automated reports that get shunted to a folder for review. My goal, like many knowledge workers is not to empty my inbox. We’ve long ago given up on that prospect. Instead we try to manage it. To keep the number of unread messages below 100. So, when a “Reggie would like to recall this message” shows up, I’m excited. Not to read it. I’m excited that I can delete two more messages without reading them. (101 unread down to 99! For the win!)

It’s kind of sad to watch Tom Hanks, and to a lesser extent Meg Ryan, get sucked into their email. I want to yell at the screen,

Don’t do it! It’s a trap! Run away!

And if you’ve seen the movie, you know that it’s not until they break the chains to their inbox and stop their auditory addiction to “You’ve got mail” that they actually start living and falling in love.

Because of his devotion to email, I think Hanks’ character was an idiot. How do I know?

Takes one to know one.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply