Back in 1995, at the end of my year as General Secretary (President) of the LSE Students Union, having only recently discovered e-mail, the entertainments sabbatical, Gary Delaney (who’s now a stand-up comic), and I were surfing the web – before it was called that – and came across Stephen Fry’s website.
Back then the internet was in its infancy, confined to limited numbers in Universities, and techies. We were both comedy fans (I spent a couple of years doing amateur stand-up, with Gary writing some of it; thankfully he later worked up the courage to do it himself, and unsurprisingly massively surpassed me as he has funny bones I could never dream of) and Stephen Fry was a great hero.
Tentatively we emailed him, wondering if the great man would e-mail back, and shockingly he did. Unshockingly, while I can’t remember exactly what he said, it was witty and erudite. Yet the biggest surprise was the fact that he’d bothered to email back in the first place.
As I now know to my cost, as the Internet’s grown it’s become virtually impossible for those of us in the public eye to answer back, even people as low down the pecking order as me. I get literally thousands of emails every day, and all get an auto-response; a shame as in the early days of the site I tried to follow Stephen’s example; now I could spend 24 hours a day replying and still not reply to them all. Though I do try to post in the Forum whenever possible.
Occassionally I manage to email or respond to a PM, and sometimes when I do I get something like “I can’t believe I’m actually talking to you – is it really you?” in response. Rather similar to my email back to Stephen Fry…