It's four weeks since I stopped checking my e-mails and I'm feeling better already. I'm even thinking of taking out a small advertisement in the Independent so my real friends will know that there is now no point sending me electronic mail because I won't be reading it.
My decision has nothing to do with the junk mail that turns up unbidden every morning. I positively warm to the task of instantly deleting Internet messages from people who want to sell me lottery tickets and attractive Russian women. What I don't want to see on my screen are any more messages from would-be intimates. Take the case of Graham Bennett. For years Graham and I have been third-class friends. Whenever we meet we shake hands and talk about the old days down at the Lowther in York, when a man wasn't a man unless he could down eight pints of Sam Smith's and three helpings of Grandma Batty's processed Yorkshire pudding without vomiting into the Ouse.
But I've never liked the fact that he was incurably old Labour, played bass in a Dixieland band called the Minster Stompers and sported a beard which made him look as though he was peering through a yak's arse. Neither has he ever seemed terribly impressed with what he calls my "London ways" or the news (which swept round the Lowther like wildfire) that I'd once enjoyed a meal with Peter Mandelson.
It was, you might say, a relationship in which we both knew where we stood.
But then Graham got hold of my electronic address. One morning I switched on and there was a completely unsolicited message from him giving me unwanted news about a trombonist I'd never heard of called "Ginge" who'd had the misfortune to break his playing arm falling down the stairs at the Lowther after a Socialist Workers get-together. In the last sentence Graham announced out of the blue that "it would be great to get together and have a proper talk".
After 20 years carefully avoiding such "proper talks", Graham's sudden ability to propose them on my own computer screen was as disconcerting as a breathy phone call from Ann Widdecombe. It was impossible to imagine that he'd have dared strike a similar note over the telephone or by letter.
I could cite dozens of examples of asymmetrical communications from previous acquaintances: an ex-student who mailed from New Zealand asking if I still liked "wacky baccy" as much as I did at Judy Knowlson's 21st; a man I worked with for three months at Forest Hill Comprehensive who said he was now a happy homosexual ("Bet you never guessed!"); and a message from "a long-lost cousin" who wondered if I knew about Aunt Hilda's pre- marital dalliance with a man from Wall's ice cream.
This is tantamount to an invasion. After a lifetime carefully maintaining specific degrees of intimacy with friends and acquaintances, it's alarming to discover that the entire menagerie has escaped from the zoo and is now squatting like a family of importunate chipmunks on your living-room desk.
I know there are many lonely people who might welcome e-mail from almost complete strangers. If you fall into this category do please write and let me know and I'll make sure before I close down my system for ever that I send you a list of all my electronic contacts. There must be someone out there longing to link up with a hairy bass player who enjoys processed Yorkshire pudding, reckons the Labour Party went to the dogs when it abandoned Clause Four and knows all four verses of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In".