The End of E-Mail

The other day I was bored at work and I came across this cartoon from a random website, and since I just got two of my friends’ wedding invitations in the mail, I definitely appreciate the humor. Having been invited to weddings both via web and via snail mail, I am definitely a traditionalist, and prefer receiving snail mail over e-mail tenfold.

That being said, we live in the information age, and e-mail is much faster, more convenient, and often, more reliable than snail mail. For example – my old landlord recently sent me the full amount of my roommate’s and my security deposit, which I was to split with my roommate. I wrote her a check and put it in the mail with a little love note last week, and she still hasn’t received it. If we both belonged to the same bank, we would have been able to do an online transfer, which would have been instant. I mean, she wouldn’t have gotten my love-note (or that feeling of anticipation that you get when you know something is coming for you in the mail), but she would have had her money. (If it doesn’t arrive in the mail today – we’re meeting up to do a face-to-face exchange.) I think that this e-mail vs. snail-mail issue is a much larger one than paper vs. computer and I think that it’s one that is going to relentlessly haunt my generation and the ones that will follow.

Recent polls have shown that e-mail is no longer the prefferred way of conversation for young people. You guessed it, text messaging comes first, followed by…(I would have thought e-mail) facebook messages, then email, and then finally a phone call. Naturally, my first thought was – really? What is wrong with our generation!? You can’t even attach anything to a facebook message…but then I thought about it. Facebook is actually much more personal than e-mail (you see the person’s face right next to their name in their message), and e-mail is much more closely associated to something you’d send to a professor, your boss, or your parents (especially if it’s one of those cute-but-disturbing chain emails that tell you if you don’t forward it to 25 people there will be a fiery hole where your home once was). And – people in the information age are busy! There’s always something to google, stumble, tumble, or blog – so it’s totally natural that if I want to talk to my best friend who I haven’t seen in months, I should send her a text asking her when she’s free to talk on the phone, right?

No – not right at all. The fact that it is the accepted practice to text-before-call is crazy! It’s even crazier that my mom text me telling me to call, and is still surprised when I pick up the phone and dial right away — what did she expect? And, what would be the worst thing that could happen if my mom called me instead of texted me? I would miss the call? I would pick up? I would call her back?

Like I said, this is part of a much larger problem with my generation that has to do with several things, but mostly, has to do with ego. Meaning instant gratification. Meaning – you can google anything. The web has become the world’s biggest library, reference center, database, and research tool. Don’t know how to make chimichangas? Google it. Want to know what your best friend is up to? Ask her on Facebook chat. Don’t know who the actor is on that show that reminds you of Friends and Seinfeld? Google it– just like that, and I bet you that Neil Patrick Harris/How I Met Your Mother will be one of the options. Missed last night’s newest episode? Hulu it. Everything is on the web, and everything is available with exactly a 0.01 wait time. This makes my generation great at research (now that Wikipedia provides their references) but terrible at just about everything else, including phone calls, meetings, job interviews, writing cover letters, and relationships.

Being connected all the time is not as fun and dandy as you’d think; as the above cartoon shows, junk mail, now comes in the form of spam and sure, whenever I go shopping at one of my favorite stores and they ask me to sign up to receive coupons, it sounds great – until I actually get 47 e-mails/day from said store and all of them read ONE DAY SALE! TODAY ONLY!

And once I went wireless and got a blackberry, I began to suffer from what is called Blackberry Blindness, meaning: I’d read an email/text message with the intention of answering it later on when I could devote my full attention to whomever sent it, only to forget about it and for it to get lost in one hundred other emails from people trying to acquire free items on freecycle or the new neighbor who’s asking for fun things to do in town. Because we all have this concept that everything is available on the web faster than you can finish typing it (does anyone else think it’s creepy that google can now basically read your mind by completing your search algorithm based on most-popular searches?) we are starting to treat our relationships the same way; if someone doesn’t answer a text right away, or puts a punctuation mark in the wrong spot, maybe they are mad at you, and now that Blackberries have that dandy feature that tells you when the recipient of your message has read it, people feel neglected over the unanswered, read messages they’ve sent.

It used to be that people who lived farther than one house from one another used these things called telephones that were connected to these boxes that were connected to these wires that were connected to the house and other wires and they would have to pick them up and dial a number (from memory or from an actual phone book) and if their friend wasn’t available…they would have to leave a message, because these phones had no screens and couldn’t tell their owner that they had 7 missed calls. And…for people who lived really far away from each other, they had to send a letter, which had a wait time of at least 2 days (or more depending on how far away it was travelling) and then the person had to read it, answer it (which took time) and mailed a response (again, a wait time of 2+ days) meaning sometimes friends would go at least 4 days without hearing from each other.

But those letters probably had a lot more substance than “hey.” “whatsup?” “what r u up 2?” “nothing lol u?” “me 2 haha bored.”

Sound familiar?

And when people needed to get jobs, they needed to buy a newspaper, read the classifieds, hand-write or type (on a type-writer) a cover letter and resume that they then needed to personally hand to whomever was looking for an employee. Meaning, take a train, bus, car, or horse and buggy down to their hopeful place of employment, walk in, and actually look the person that was going to maybe hire them in the eye as they handed them their resume/cover letter. Since I’ve never had to do this myself, I don’t know – but I would imagine that it’s much easier to disregard a potential employee when you’ve never seen his/her face because he/she has been reduced to a PDF on a computer screen…

When Jonathan and I met, he didn’t have text messaging, and believe it or not, we’ve also dated at (several periods) where he didn’t have a phone either, because his was broken, and his mom’s landline (where he was living at the time) was broken as well.  This meant that we would sometimes have to show up unannounced at each other’s place of residence, send letters to each other (yes, we’ve actually done that), and just spend a few days where talking to one another was impossible!

Jonathan, to the chagrin of many of his friends, still doesn’t text much, although he will cave in and send one or two in dire situations (which usually means he’ll hand me the phone, tell me what he wants to say, and I’ll send the text for him), and our relationship has always been better off for it. My mom says that she knew we were in a budding relationship when (I was only 16) I would stay up late talking on the phone. Fast forward to my college years: we would still stay up late talking on the phone while my roommates and friends would be texted at 2 or 3 AM by the guys they were “hanging out” with with a…you guessed it…”whatsup?”

None of this is meant to imply that it’s impossible to have a productive, personal, meaningful conversation via text message, e-mail, facebook chat, or any other newfangled technological tool that’s out there on the interweb, but I am trying to say that it’s much easier and much more rewarding to communicate via phone and in person. Last week, I got a phone call (no text-message first) from one of my oldest and best friends. We talked for about 7 minutes, and most of it was small talk, similar to what we would have texted to one another. But, as soon as we hung up, I turned to Jonathan and said, “I am so glad she called me,” something that I am sure I would not have said if I had just received a text asking me what was new.

I know that I may be driving my non Jewish readers crazy (I can’t believe how many people have been visiting this blog per day!) by my Jewish tie-in with many of my posts, but this one would be such a shame to waste. As many of you know, Shabbos is a day of total rest, where no work is allowed (the definition of work is a much longer story – if you’re interested, I’ll do another post on it); work includes anything that has to do with electricity and technology, meaning: you are not allowed to turn lights/electronic devices on/off, talk on the phone, or use a computer. That means, for 25 hours per week, people who are shomer shabbos disconnect from the world that exists outside of what is walking distance (friends’ homes, shul, maybe the park) in order to better connect to the spiritual aspects of the physical world. There is no better way to build real, meaningful relationships than to spend a meal with friends when there are no cell phones on the table, no one is leaving to take an important phone call, the TV isn’t blaring in the background, and “the game” doesn’t take priority. It’s so much easier to notice the immense beauty of the world around us when the weight of your phone isn’t holding you down. It’s a beautiful break from the world, but a beautiful vacation in the world as well, prioritizing relationships with the people you love over your relationship with the TV or computer, helping you build the ultimate relationship with the Being that created the world you can finally see with both eyes.

So when you start to feel like you’re never going to be able to reign in all 457 unread emails in your inbox, remember that you are allowed to walk away. That calling means more than texting, and face-to-face relationships are the most valuable of all (as long as your phone is off the table).

Sometimes, you just need to Disconnect to Connect.


One thought on “The End of E-Mail

  1. elyse and i used to send each other letters sometimes because it really was just so exciting to get a letter in the mail. her house phone number is the only non-family number i still know by heart. no wonder my memory is going by the wayside…

    as always, beautifully written. you should have your own column in a newspaper or magazine 🙂

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