I really miss e-mail.
Before you look at me funny and silently consider whether I’ve gone off the deep end, let me add that I don’t miss all the e-mail I actually get: various sales communications from any store I’ve ever bought something from online, e-mail list digests, appointment reminders, notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, WordPress, and let’s not forget bills and bank statements.
I miss the old days of e-mail when I didn’t get any of the above, and each e-mail I did receive was an electronic letter, worthy of excitement and anticipation. You can express so much personality in an e-mail. When I read a good e-mail, it almost feels like its writer is in the room with me. And the one-on-one nature of the communication means that e-mail builds relationships in an intimate way. These words were written for my eyes only–there is value in that.
I got my first e-mail account when I went away to college. My mom would print out the e-mails I sent her, and then she’d write a response and send it through snail mail. I tried my best to stay in touch with those friends who also had e-mail addresses. Those that didn’t…not so much. Mea culpa.
That first year, visiting the computer lab across the way to check e-mail was an event. We’d head over in our slippers in friendly camaraderie until we sat in front of those old glowing screens, at which point our focus was entirely on the act of checking e-mail. I spent so much time marveling at the wonder of e-mail, I made one of my best friends of freshman year in the computer lab.
E-mail was often my lifeline when travelling alone. I’d be meeting new people every day, but still spending hours at a stretch by myself. I learned how to eat by myself at a restaurant, but it was never a particularly joyful experience. When I got too lonely or felt too detached from anything permanent, I’d find an internet cafe and write to the friends who had become, whether they knew it or not, a kind of anchor. They reminded me of what it meant to have a home.
Nowadays I rarely receive this kind of e-mail. My inbox becomes clogged with messages that feel like work. I stay in touch with people via social media, a kind of communication that, while efficient, can also be impersonal. People “like” my statuses, but we don’t have the sort of conversations we’d have if we were discussing the same topic over e-mail. And too often it feels like the friendship is being held in stasis instead of being actively developed.
I do have one friend with whom I e-mail regularly, and it’s just as good as I remember. It’s also something of a miracle that we both managed to continue the correspondence, especially in the beginning. But I’m glad we did. If we had merely stayed in touch via Facebook and Twitter, we wouldn’t know each other half as well as we do now. We would only see the edges of each other’s lives instead of being able to go deeper. We might not even be friends at all.
Yes, I miss the golden age of e-mail. Do you?