Chain letters

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:

Dear Friend,
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. From 1998 to 2009 is 11 years. In 11 years, there are 52 x 11 weeks = 572 weeks.
  5. 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.
  6. Now think about this for a moment. After only 200 weeks, the sum would look like this:

  7. 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.
  8. Therefore, it just is a mathematical impossibility that the chain has never been broken and the contents of the letter must be a hoax.
You see, chain letters operate on the basis of guilt. The recipient is made to feel that you will let down ALL THE PEOPLE BEFORE YOU if you do not keep the chain going.

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.

Kind wishes,

8 thoughts on “Chain letters

  1. hahahaaaaah!

    Good on you!
    I hate chain letters, and I never forward them on. I really resent grown adults doing it….so ridiculous.

    Thats great, I wish I were better at maths!

  2. One of my friends always sends me chain emails, the send it to six people you love and back the person who sent it to you. I just hit delete. I would so much rather hear what is gong on in her life, or what she had for lunch even than these empty, guilt inducing, whatevers.
    And like Fifi, I am impressed with your maths; I was having trouble remembering how to convert 7/9ths into a percentage today… Oh dear!

  3. Hi fifi and Luhlahh. I had a bit of fun thinking about the absurdity of the numbers. And it did help my son to understand that he didn't need to feel bad about "breaking the chain".

    Such a shame when you get one of those chain emails from a friend who thinks, 'Uh oh, better send it on or I will have 25 years of bad luck.' Yep, I'd much rather hear about what she had for lunch too.

  4. Also, who would really believe that postal workers are sitting there, logging any letters marked, "Attention – Chain Letter 1998 – 2009" into a big ledger that they will hand over to the good folk at the Guiness Book of Records at the end of 2009?


  5. Sorry, but I am still obsessed with chain letters, and the absurdity of intelligent people being completely blind to pretty obvious facts.

    Fact: The population of the earth is currently just under 6,780,000,000.

    Say one person started the chain letter and sent it to 6 others, and each of those 6 sent it to 6 others, and so on, then:

    Week 1: 1 person
    Week 2: 1 person + 6 more = 7
    Week 3: 1 + (6 x 6) = 37
    Week 4: 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 217
    Week 5: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 1297
    Week 6: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 7,777
    Week 7: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1= 46,657
    Week 8: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 279,937
    Week 9: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 1,679,617
    Week 10: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 10,077,697
    Week 11: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 60,466,177
    Week 12: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 362,797,057
    Week 13: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 2,176,782,367
    Week 14: 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 x 6 + 1 = 13,060,694,016

    ie, after only 14 weeks, the letter would have been sent to double the earth's population.

  6. I have only just found this Ulrike but I will book mark it as I have no doubt it will be an issue with my kids at some point and now I have the perfect answer!

  7. Good for you! I just delete them, but can see why a child would not understand & be made feel guilty.

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