A week or so ago, my son received a chain letter. (See letter to the right. Click on it to view larger image.) I was wondering what I should do. He was overwhelmed by a guilty kind of sense of responsibility, but to help him to keep the chain going just went completely against my gut instincts. So I wondered some more, and did a bit of thinking, and then I wrote a letter back to the parents of the (very young) child who sent the chain letter to my son:
You say that the chain letter you sent to my child was commenced in 1998, and has never been broken. If this were true, then it would mean:
- If one child started the chain letter in 1998, and sent it to 6 other children, and each of these children then sent it to 6 others, then after these 2 rounds, 36 kids would be involved.
- The chain letter instructions state that it must be sent on within 4 days. Let us just assume (to make the mathematics simpler) that the post takes 3 days to deliver each letter. So then, this would mean that every 7 days (or each week), the number of participants increases by a multiple of 6.
- Thus, after 8 weeks, already 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 children are involved. That equals 1,679,616 children. After only 8 weeks.
- From 1998 to 2009 is 11 years. In 11 years, there are 52 x 11 weeks = 572 weeks.
- So, if the chain has never been broken, that would mean that the number of kids involved in the chain is 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 ….. and so on, for 572 times) ie, 6 to the power of 572.
- Now think about this for a moment. After only 200 weeks, the sum would look like this:
- The chain letter was two hundred weeks old in approximately 2002 or 2003 and already the number was incomprehensibly, ridiculously astronomical. It has 155 noughts after if, for goodness sake. There are not even nearly that many people on the planet. Probably not even that many insects. But you never know with insects.
- Therefore, it just is a mathematical impossibility that the chain has never been broken and the contents of the letter must be a hoax.
It is not good to be manipulated by feelings of guilt, especially where that guilt serves no productive purpose. If I write letters premised on guilt, then I prefer that they be for Amnesty International, where pressure through feelings of guilt might serve some useful purpose, like saving political prisoners. Or something like that….
It is pathetic to manipulate children through mindless guilt.
Therefore, I am sorry that I am unable to allow my child to participate in this alleged Guiness Book of Records Chain Letter.