If you were born after 1985 – you don’t remember the pre-internet, pre-e-mail days. That’s because (in my opinion) the world changed when America Online came in to my home for the first time.
I was an early adopter. I just didn’t know it at the time.
I remember installing AOL into my Apple Mac SE – and off I went. My e-mail address was simply my name. No numbers, nothing. And I remember when I got my first e-mail. A voice inside my computer would say “Welcome, you’ve got mail” and it was exciting – because nobody ever got e-mail before.
Little would I know how soon I would learn to hate e-mail. Now, of course we carry our e-mail everywhere with us. I have multiple devices to check my e-mail. My iPad, my laptop, my iPhone, my desktop in the office. I can’t get away from it.
A few years ago, I did some research and found an interesting generational difference with e-mail. If you’re over 30 years old, you have a need to be connected. You have to know what’s going on at home, at work, in the world. If you’re under 30 years old, you have a fear of being disconnected from your friends. There is this fear that no matter what you’re doing, your friends may be doing something better. So, if you’re at a party on the Lower East Side, you’re worried that your friends may be having a better time in Brooklyn. It has nothing to do with work. Or the extended world. Just your world.
I know I always check my work e-mail before I check my personal e-mail. And my friends know if they want to get me immediately, they send me and e-mail. If I want to get my daughters, I send a TXT message. I can go hours without checking if someone sent me a TXT. One of my co-workers is an avid TXT messager. It drives her NUTS that I don’t answer her messages in 1.2 seconds. In fact, there are days when I didn’t even notice that one came through. But an e-mail, I look at immediately.
E-mail is/was special. Look at the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie “You’ve Got Mail.” The characters had an entire love affair over e-mail They would wake each morning and check to see if their secret ‘friend’ had written back. (As an aside – I hate this movie – as I could never fall in love with someone who put me and my family’s bookstore out of business) Every morning I have to weave through the dozens of internet offers to even FIND a special e-mail from a friend. This morning I had 36 ‘special offers’ from retailers, and 1 message from someone who read my blog (thank you Tom).
And while I love the invention of e-mail, and I use it often, I do miss conversation. There are times at work when I’m on the phone with someone discussing a project. And they ask if I could send them an e-mail with the directions instead of talking about them. It’s not that they don’t want to talk. It’s just that they want a written record of what’s being requested. A cover-your-ass record. I get it. I also hate it.
I guess this means we’ve come full circle. My grandparents use to have stacks of old letters that they wrote. Now, I have folders of old e-mails. Someday, I’ll look back at them and realize that they really were important. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
Just like back in 1985.