It’s a bit of a lost art, emailing. I’m not talking about quick “notes” or “FYIs” that we flick out to our colleagues or friends. They don’t count.
Proper emailing, like letter writing, is a form of storytelling. It’s reaching through your computer, your words washing gently over your reader, be they a few meters down the road or on the other side of the world, as you share a piece of yourself with them, thoughtfully and carefully typed out, letter-by-letter, onto your screen.
Yep, emailing really is something.
I used to pride myself on writing the perfectly crafted email. For years, it was my favourite way of communicating with my siblings. Yes, we lived under the same roof for most of those years, and no it wasn’t because I couldn’t stand to be around them. Far from it! We used to love spontaneous before bedtime catch ups in the bathroom, meeting while we brushed our teeth, only to head sleepily off to our rooms an hour later after a full debrief of our day or week (or most recent episode of The OC, as it were). But there was something special about our emails.
There was no pretense, no pressure to impress. We were just kids (well, we were pretty much adults but whatever, I still feel like a kid) having fun. Snappy, witty, wry with a smattering of pop culture references for good measure, we shared advice, jokes, anecdotes from the day. This pre-dated Instagram and a lot of the fancy Facebook features that allow it to seamlessly integrate into our everyday lives, so it was our way of sharing things we loved – books, movies, albums, our favourite bands. It was special because it was private and it was focussed. We didn’t just see something on one of our many social media feeds, tag each other and forget.
Those emails got me through year 12. They got me through many a terrible temp job.They got me through never ending layovers sprawled on the floor of foreign airports.
There was also this email ‘thing’ I had with one of my best friends at high school. We were in all the same classes but we’d still religiously email each other as soon as we got home after school. We used emails in the same way we’d text today, but we loved the creativity of a long-form style. Plus we had pretty limited pre-paid mobile caps back in the day, and 160 character limits! For one of my birthdays my friend printed out our emails and had them bound into a book. I loved it instantly. I flipped through it late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping, reliving the laughter and drama and chaos of our teenage lives.
Now, of course, I get hundreds of emails a week at work. All day long my Outlook pings as my phone buzzes simultaneously, something new to read/action/file/note for later. With all that buzzing and pinging, emails have lost their shine somewhat. I am still quite fond of a personal email but in this age of hyper-connectivity and instant gratification, who has time to hone a well formed, personalised essay to just one recipient. Why, it’s faster to post a photo on Instagram, filtered to the nines. It’s faster to snap a Snapchat and rush out an accompanying one-liner, pushing it out to all my friends at once. It’s faster to post one high level catch all statement on Facebook about how I’m going, freely available to all perusing their news feeds.
Yes, emails are a dying art. Rare but cherished keepsakes, a symbol of a valued relationship. A little part of the day I used to love so much but no longer make time for. Maybe I’ll single-handedly bring back the personal email? What do you think? Is there something you’ve loved and lost that you want to bring back?