What’s in a name? The perils of email

Toby Ash (neither the author nor the subject of this post but another)

Dabbler Correspondent Toby Ash needs to get some Bar Mitzvah guilt off his chest, thinks we are all only a couple of keystrokes away from ruination and has a top tip for cashing in on Hanukkah.

A few years ago I started receiving emails from complete strangers living in Israel. At first I just ignored them as junk, but as their volume increased and their subject matter broadened I began to take more interest.

Rather than the standard junk email fare, these missives were addressed specifically to Toby Ash and concerned every day matters, from meetings to discuss maintenance of an apartment building to the odd invite to social events and political rallies. It was the familiarity and intimacy of them that struck me: ‘Hi Toby, Good to see you the other day, you looked well…blah blah’. Because they were in my inbox and were addressed to Toby they did sort of feel as if they were meant for me, even though of course they weren’t. I’m needy like that obviously.

Given that my email address is simply my name @myemailprovider.com there must have been someone in Israel called Toby with the same or very similar surname. Slightly odd perhaps given that my name is not Jewish, but there we go. The emails were also in English rather than Hebrew, so I guess he must have started life outside Israel.

Yes, I know I should have just replied to them pointing out that they had the wrong Toby, but for some reason I didn’t. Not completely sure why. Let’s put it down to a combination of laziness (why bother, they will soon find out he isn’t receiving them), irritation (why should I? They’re the ones who are invading my private email account) and, I have to admit, curiosity. I had just found another me and quite an exotic one at that. So I did nothing.

But I soon discovered that doing nothing was actually affecting the other Toby. One day he was sent an invite to a friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah. A week later another email arrived which read something like this: ‘Dear Toby, we were all frankly very surprised not to see you at Moshe’s Bar Mitzvah last week….where were you?’ So poor old Toby was now in the dog house through no fault of his own. He was probably wondering why everyone was giving him the cold shoulder.

So, through no action on my part, I found myself in a position to create mayhem in the life of a complete stranger who lived thousands of miles away, all because we happened to share a name and a couple of people had mistyped his email address in their contacts folder and now believed any message sent from my email account would be from him.

Take the residents of his apartment block, whose names were all conveniently copied into emails he received from the building’s management. I could have anonymously sent any number of mischievous missives: ‘Hey Maya, I just felt I had to tell you how sexy you looked this morning when we passed on the stairs’, or ‘I just thought you should know that I’m suffering from this rather infectious rash. Probably best if you keep your distance next time you see me’. The possibilities were endless.

He also had a couple of right-wing friends who invited him to meetings and rallies. I could have had lots of fun here. ‘Don’t you think Yasser Arafat has lovely eyes?’, or how about ‘I’ve been reading the Quran recently and think a lot of it really makes sense’.

You’ll be relieved to know that I resisted the temptation to act like God in the Holy Land and eventually the flow of emails dried up. Well, they almost did. Out of the blue I did get an email from Manhattan’s upper west side with an order for two Hanukkah lamps (gold plated please) complete with credit card details and, would you believe it, a three digit security number. At over $500 a pop, there certainly is money to be made in Hanukkah lamps if you are looking for a niche business idea.

And the moral of this little tale? Basically, we are all a couple of keystrokes away from ruination so stick to the telephone. And if you are reading Toby, I am genuinely sorry about the Bar Mitzvah but would very grateful if you could forward any of my emails you might get to The Dabbler. Many thanks.

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About Author Profile: Toby Ash

A former journalist, Toby now works a consultant in the private and humanitarian sectors. When not in deepest Cornwall or darkest London, he trots the globe taking stunning photos which you can see on his Instagram account - @toby_ash

4 thoughts on “What’s in a name? The perils of email

  1. Gaw
    January 10, 2011 at 07:16

    Great story with a clear and timeless moral: All that is necessary for misdirected email to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

  2. wormstir@gmail.com'
    January 10, 2011 at 11:17

    ..and lets just ponder for a minute as to exactly what emails of yours the isreali toby ash has been receiving….

  3. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    January 10, 2011 at 11:39

    Yes he might be writing a similar post about the pranks he’s played on our Toby Ash on some Israeli blog as we speak.

    ‘Toby Ash’ is a cool name but might be particularly vulnerable to this threat, being cool enough to sound unique, so you don’t expect there to be other Toby Ashes as you would when emailing, say, John Smith or Mohammed Mohammed, but not so crazy that it actually is unique, like, say, Zaphod Breeblebrox.

  4. info@shopcurious.com'
    January 10, 2011 at 14:33

    How very curious Toby. I too have received emails regarding events held by the Hebrew University in London – though nothing this personal. Perhaps there’s a strange subliminal force working out there, as I mysteriously found myself watching the film A Serious Man the other day…

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