When I was a kid, I loved getting mail. It was exciting for me to think that I could put make a letter, put it in a blue box, and get something back a week later. Magical stuff.
As a young geek I joined a unique Commodore user group: Meeting 64/128 Users Through the Mail. The group's name truly says it all. I loved being a member of that group and, for a while, I was its youngest member. I forged friendships with people all over the US and the world - and man, getting air mail from England? So far away? Exciting!
Between that group, Loadstar, and magazines, the mail connected young me to the world outside my bedroom.
It feels like email
This year after IA Summit, I made a concerted effort to use Twitter much more than I previously had. I followed more people and responded to tweets more often. I dug in. But when I step back and look at the way I use Twitter now, it looks a lot like the way I use email.
I love Inbox Zero, but Inbox One (patent pending) with a fresh message of warm words from a friend? Even better.
But email can hurt too
Like any medium, though, email isn't necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. I've talked about how I used to lean on email to circumvent face-to-face conversations and that's something Will Sansbury picked up on in a comment on Whitney Hess's blog entry.
In a face-to-face interaction, a request is a negotiation of spoken words and subtle body language, and we don't walk away with the other person holding an improper expectation without allowing it to happen.
Will's point is a very good one. I'd say that for a time I went too far in the other direction and used email and regular ol' mail so much that I saw them as the only ways to communicate with other people. I don't feel that way anymore, but I understand the power in the ability to send a message to anyone - anyone with an email address - and say anything. I mean, I sent Peter Buck a letter telling him I thought a tab for "Feeling Gravitys Pull" I found on rec.music.rem was off by a key, and I thought including a SASE would guarantee a reply. Nope! 35-year-old me wouldn't do that (I'd totally just do a Snapchat) but 14-year-old me definitely did.
Similarly, this is why I do videos for some topics. It's still a one-way thing, for now, but it also lets you see me and what I'm saying and maybe even I'll make a gesture or three. It's a different medium.
That all said, I still love email. It is a connection, a relationship, as Whitney said. We often shoo aside email like it's the oldest and worst thing ever. But it has survived and is still here with us, decades since its creation. Its form has changed over time and we've tried to change it (push notifications, DMs, chat) but in the end there is something still magical and powerful about composing a message - composing! - and tapping Send.