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Happy Birthday, Email!

Posted on the 07 March 2012 by Periscope
Happy birthday, email!

Computer keyboard. Photo credit: DeclanTM on flickr

It was email’s birthday this week, and next week it will be the birthday of the first email to be sent with an attachment. Have our lives become immeasurably better since the inception of this glorious technology? Or are we now all gibbering, paranoid wrecks preparing to return to pigeon post and the cleft stick?

So why celebrate it now? asked Hadley Freeman on The Guardian. Well, we “live in an internet age now, in which news is supposed to break at least a week before the event itself happens. Get with the programme, grandad!” In a year’s time, she continued, email will be able to get drunk in the US, and then “send late-night misguided missives to your ex-lovers on your own medium, and then suffer meta remorse.” The father of email, Nathaniel Borenstein, is apparently disappointed with the “cumbersome code” of email. But that’s hardly the worst thing about the internet. It’s “nothing but one hot, bubbling sea of disappointment and human failure.”

So what’s email given us?

Well it’s certainly brought the question of privacy into the mix. There was Carolyn Bourne, the woman who sent an email to her future daughter-in-law about the latter’s supposedly uncouth behavior. There were the city boys who discussed an ex-girlfriend in lurid terms, only for their discussion to be plastered all over the world (and for them to lose their jobs.) And, more recently, there were the four city boys (again) whose “rules” for their holiday in Dubai went viral. Periscope wonders whether in fact these viral emails are teaching us to take things out of context and react viscerally to things that should really remain private.

It didn’t bring the paperless office. The global demand for paper is going to surpass 400 million tons for the first time this year, said ITproportal. Far from reducing our need for dead trees, email and computers seem to have increased it. We’re still averse to reading from a screen. We like to back up our stuff in real form. Switching to paperless, though, has its benefits. Islington Council, for instance, has been e-invoicing, and has made savings of £176,000 a year.

You are the product. Many people are concerned over email’s attitudes towards the people it serves. Free services such as Gmail have come under fire – firstly, for “reading” their users’ emails to provide targeted ads; and secondly, for linking these details across its broader services. It also seems, more recently, to have been sending emails under users’ names extolling the benefits of its services.

It’s made us more stressed. The constant need to check emails, to feel that you’re in on business deals, to check your Blackberry every five seconds, has made us all paranoid wrecks with the attention span of a gnat. Well, most of us. There are hundreds of sites out there offering ways of dealing with the problem. There’s even a new word – nomophobia, which describes the state of anxiety one feels when parted from one’s smart phone. So all in all, asks Periscope, weren’t we better off before?


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