E is for Email
I remember sending my first email. We had friends visiting from England, bringing their laptop computer along. It wasn’t a laptop the way we would think of one now, but the brick version of the 1990s. They would routinely plug into our phone line to check their email.
When I was very young, my family had lived in England for a few months. I’d met a friend there, a little girl, and our visitors let me craft my first email to that little girl. I remember the anticipation of sending off an email and waiting for a response. Unlike the letters I wrote to my pen pal, this one could be returned as immediately as she liked. I was hooked.
My family eventually got an email address for all of us to share. It was composed of numbers and we used our dial up internet to go online briefly, retrieve any email we had, and then read and respond to it in our offline inbox.
When I got an email address of my own, it was through CompuServe. I accessed it using a desktop computer with a large gray tower and a monitor as thick as it was wide. By then, you could choose a username made out of letters and numbers. I don’t remember my first one exactly, but I know that it included the nickname I tried to get to catch on (but never did), Sunny.
Later, when I joined the Yahoo world, I used a nickname I had invented for my dog.
Nora Ephron wrote an essay that I love, originally published in the New York Times in 2007. It’s called The Six Stages of Email. It’s only fitting that I would love a piece about email written by Nora, since she wrote You’ve Got Mail which connected with me just as email was beginning to enter my daily life.
From that 1998 movie, I learned that email could be romantic, riveting, beautifully punctuated. That was how I proceeded into the online world.
I had a chance to try this out with my very first boyfriend, a bookish young man I met at a C.S. Lewis conference at my college. He went to school in Texas and lived in Chicago. I went to school in Indiana and lived in Washington State.
Every day, during that first summer of our courtship, we each wrote a long, intricate email. I waited for the hour I knew would mostly likely bring the email. My boyfriend would return from work, taking the El, and would respond to my email as soon as he reasonably could, after dinner.
That summer, I was working as a photographer for a camp affiliated with the college I attended. As I snapped photos of elementary school teachers, rocks, trees, and scientific activities, I counted the moments until that time at the end of the day when I could begin checking my email every minute or so.
After the email arrived and I had read through it one or two times, I would respond, line by line, not wanting to miss anything. I’d send it, then, I’d go back and read it again.
Since those days, my email inbox has failed to capture my attention the way it did on those summer evenings. I get newsletters, notifications, invitations, and the occasional personal email. My heart still skips a beat when I see an email from someone I know. I rush to read it, and try to soak it in.
Email has been the bearer of all kinds of good news for me. Through email, I received an invitation to be a visiting writer at a college in Colorado last year. I’ve received the first baby pictures from friends who had recently become parents. When I started online dating, I experienced those same tingles of excitement every time I got a new message from a match.
This week, I emptied my inbox for the first time since January, responding to everything and feeling wonderful about the lightness I experienced in my spirit. When new, single emails came into my box, I would deal with them immediately, not wanting them to linger long.
I’ll always enjoy hearing from friends, though I’ll never be able to capture the full strength of that excitement I brought to the first email I sent, off to England. I still love the chance to write out my thoughts and connect over distance, even late at night or early in the morning.
Lately, though I’m with Nora, at the Sixth Stage of Email, which is simply: call me. Part of me still believes that romance, excitement, or simply a beautifully punctuated sentence could be coming my way as I noticed that I have mail.
This post is the fifth installment of a new series I'm beginning, one for each letter of the alphabet. These posts will be in order, about whatever strikes my fancy, posted each Monday.