A few weeks ago, in a move that likely won’t win me Auntie of the Year award, I sent my nephew an Amazon gift card for his birthday. Since, again, I was not winning any competitions, I had the gift card delivered electronically to his email because, whoops, it was the day after his birthday and I needed to get his gift to him as fast as possible.
Then a week later, I asked Gabrielle if she had heard from her teacher about a recommendation for the Governor’s Scholar Program when she told me she’d have to check her email. It had been approximately five to 10 to possibly 20 days since she last had.
It was then I realized that my 15-year-old nephew Reece might also check his email infrequently, so I asked him if he’d received the gift card. Low and behold, he didn’t know what I meant and so, low and behold, he’d been under the impression that either Auntie Tara had either forgotten his birthday or gifts were no longer forthcoming from this household.
It was then I realized that this generation has little to no interest in email.
Oh but what a shame.
Because remember when email first became available? Oh me, oh my, what an exciting time. For a shy person like me, the Internet was a whole new world — one in which I could suddenly communicate succinctly and even with a bit of spice and pizzazz. There was no awkward conversation. There was no bad breath or pimples. I could sit at my desk, in my Tweetie pajamas, and be a total extrovert: hilarious, insightful, the life of the chatline (oh boy, am I dating myself).
It didn’t take long before I had an online boyfriend, and receiving an email was much like receiving a love letter. My online boyfriend and I spent hours crafting missives to each other, filled with so many adjectives they’d make anyone else nauseous. There was no end to how I was in love with language back then. Words like cantaloupe. And pearl. And milk. And glossy. They were all so very beautiful to me.
It was also a time of my life filled with self-discovery. What I wrote to him and what he wrote to me wasn’t as much about communication with each other, as it was a diary to ourselves, a log of our days, realizations we made during them that otherwise would have gone unmarked.
In those days, a yellow exclamation mark would appear at the bottom right of my computer screen when a new email had been received. Did any of you guys have that too? I was like Pavlov’s dog with that exclamation mark, immediately awash in excitement when it showed up. Because emails were like little gifts constantly arriving from Hotmail and Yahoo and AOL and delphi.com. Not just from the online boyfriend (who ended up being a dud), but from everyone: friends, parents, relatives. It was such a nice, non-intrusive way to communicate. You could answer when you wanted. You could be as chatty as you felt like. You checked it, it didn’t tap you on the shoulder and tell you to check it. And when you pressed send, you knew the recipient was likewise receiving a little gift, a little buoyancy in their day.
Most remarkably, you suddenly didn’t have to wait to get home to check your mail. I remember going to the university computer room. The computer screens were in green and black. The cursor was a blinking square. There were no mice. You had to log in to your university account in order to access your messages. You used arrow keys to navigate. The room was completely quiet except for the clicking of keys. People were hunched over, still wearing their backpacks. There were some people who seemed to spend their whole day in that room. You didn’t want to be one of them, but you really liked email.
Now, email accounts mostly just contain the bills and fliers of your daily mail — rarely a lovely thank-you note anymore. I don’t blame teenagers for not turning to it first and I realize it’s a little strange that I have such affection for an older form of technology — makes as much sense as having a soft spot for an old TV or telephone. Still, it had its place and time for social interaction and, for me, it was special and sweet.