Where have all the emails gone? Where Facebook Fails

I’ve had an interesting reminder this week about the curse of Facebook and where it fails in life today. Last week I had a problem with my email on my laptop which for a while left me unable to access my entire archive of messages. In the process of sorting it out, I was also discovering the joys of What’s App. Until then I communicated with precisely two people in this medium, however over the weekend I was having quite lengthy novel-related discussions with a friend. In passing I was also noticing the various other contacts who were using What’s App, including a good friend I had year’s ago at work who I had since lost contact with…

I fired off a quick message to them, half-expecting a bemused of who is this from the new owner of that mobile number… but no, its still Clare! A brief What’s App conversation later and I decide that I need to take the conversation off What’s App and onto email for a proper catchup.

Later that evening, after I successfully got reunited with all my email I sent a long, substantial email of catching up. Then this morning I got an equally long, and full reply. It’s the kind of exchange that I’ve not had with friends since circa 2006/7. Back then, email was the saviour of The Letter, with proper exchanges of content. Since then and the rise and rise of Facebook (and others) we’ve never been in more contact with our friends (or at least our social media enabled friends). The thing is, when you are in such constant contact with so many friends its all too easy to forget the others. And even those who are on social media the exchanges are limited to bitesize messages locked away in a third party online database.

The emails of old, and the example of these two ‘eLetters’ this week, stand as a reminder that only old fashioned email discourse can be where you can read and re-read, offline if necessary, messages of substance between friends and family. Well, email, and actual handwritten letters.

Looking at the average number of emails in my Inbox from the year’s 2001-2006, against 2007-2016, it is an alarming drop. People just don’t send emails anymore, and in exactly the same way that my grandmother bemoaned the loss of letters, I bemoan the loss of emails. The difference is that emails came to replace letters in a way that nothing has replaced the substantive and permanence of either email or letters. It makes me sad.