E-mail is all very well, but it does make you vulnerable to religious nuts, chain letters and paranoid rumours

One of the occult powers of e-mail is that once you've written a message it only takes a few seconds to cc it to a hundred or a thousand people. Incidentally, I may be wrong and all my reference books are in boxes, but doesn't "cc" stand for carbon copy? Do young people nowadays know that in the days before computer files and photocopiers people used to slip a wispy thin sheet between two pieces of paper to get an extra copy? It was incredibly fiddly, and especially amusing when you put the carbon paper the wrong way round so that you would get a looking-glass version of the text on the back of the original.

Someone should mount an exhibition of outstanding products and devices that were left useless by technological shifts. I remember being told that Mike Nesmith of the Monkees was extremely rich because his mother invented Tipp-Ex and then later being told that he was much less rich because, in the world of the word processor, there are only two groups who still use Tipp-Ex: people who sniff it and my children, who use it when attempting to draw a diagram for their homework. They squeeze it out in such quantities that their paper ends up looking like a Jasper Johns painting, but even they aren't enough to keep an entire industry going.

And the tennis racket press. Remember that? It was a sort of giant mousetrap into which you inserted your wooden tennis racket in order, it was alleged, to stop it from warping. Come to think of it, I've never seen a warped tennis racket but maybe that was because the racket presses were so effective.

But back to these copies of e-mails. The result of this ease is that, once you've had an e-mail address for a while, you become one of dozens or hundreds of people who get a message from someone you sent a message to once. Sometimes they are fun: jokes about the death of Diana or Bill and Monica, a list of things that always happen in movies and not in life (such as cars that always explode when they crash and couples in bed that use a special L-shaped sheet which covers the woman's chest but not the man's). You get paranoid rumours, urban legends, chain letters. (One of my few superstitions is that I always as a matter of principle break the chain.)

I've just got a message from the music company, EMI, inviting me to vote for some sort of "Music of the Millennium" event. This includes categories such as the "best album", "best song", "best band", "best piece of classical music" and "most influential musician of the millennium". Did Schubert do albums? The Winterreise might count, but some of us consider him to be more of a singles act. As for influential, you need to be there at the beginning: Haydn inventing chamber music, or one of the early jazzmen such as King Oliver. But it'll probably go to someone like Elvis Presley. I suspect EMI is using "millennium" in the sense of those primitive tribes whose counting system allegedly consists of one, two and many. They mean the best music that's ever been done, for ages and ages, ever since, you know, like, the sixties at least.

And this week I, along with, I guess, a lot of you, was sent a virus warning. It was an alarming-looking message saying that if you receive a message titled "It takes guts to say 'Jesus' ", on no account open it because it will wipe all the contents of your hard disk (which, in my case, would be something of a blessing; I wish it would do the same for my desk and office floor). It also suggests - virtually commands - that you send the warning of this dangerous, incurable virus to everybody you know.

I duly got into a panic and started frantically preparing back-up copies of files and then back-ups of those back-ups. Then I had a cup of tea and a think.

This think had two results. The first is that, as I have written before, I'm not the person to be standing next to in a crisis. The second is that I don't believe there is such a virus. More precisely, I think the warning is the virus, or at least a form of chain letter. I suspect that some nut has composed a religious exhortation and then thought of the best way to get it read around the world. I was going to suggest sending the message to people you want to frighten, but that's what the nut probably wants.

So my real advice is, as it generally is, to do nothing. I was a possum in a previous life, you know.

This article first appeared in the 26 March 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Eating people is wrong