December 2, 2016

You’ve Got Mail

Taking joy in our inbox.

My daughter, as with many kids her age, is a huge fan of Harry Potter. And during a recent visit to Universal, the store clerk told her that she could go online to a website called Pottermore to answer some questions and find out to which Hogwarts house she belongs. Her face lit up as she turned to me and breathlessly asked “Can we?” How could I say no? I mean, I’m a proud Gryffindor myself, so…

The website, as many sites do, requires the user to have an email address in order to register and use it. As I’m already a registered user, I needed to create a new account for my daughter with a unique email address. Now, I suppose I could have used another of my own email addresses. Or I could have just created one specifically for the purpose of registering on the Pottermore site. Instead, I looked at my daughter and said “How would you like your own email address?”

Her eyes became huge saucers as she said “Really?” You’d swear I’d just offered her a new puppy. And for a moment, I remembered how magical it is to feel like you’re a grown up for the first time. Then she cocked her head, scrunched up her nose and said “Wait. What is an email address for?”

And there lies the rub. For most of us “grown ups,” email is a chore. We have long since lost hope that our inbox could contain anything interesting or exciting and we often robotically delete messages without even opening them. Many of us feel the same way as we go through our snail mail as well. Bill. Bill. Junk. Junk. Advertisement. Sigh.

But then I remember the entire reason I obtained my own, first email address. This was back in the Dark Ages of the Internet (you know, 1994) and I was studying for a semester at a university in London. And while I did exchange plenty of postcards and letters with friends and family thanks to services of the Royal Mail and our own postal service, I also used a fledgling version of email to trade correspondence with fellow digital newbies. Back then, receiving email was exciting and fun. Heck, America’s sweethearts, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, made an entire movie about getting email and it was a romantic comedy. Judging by how most of us react to our inboxes these days, any movie about email today would probably be a horror film.

So instead of regaling my daughter with the finer points of the CAN-SPAM Act, I told her we’d get the email addresses of her grandparents and her godmother so she could send them notes and they could respond. You see, while groaning as telemarketers interrupt dinner or rolling our eyes as we scroll through political comments or memes in our newsfeed, we’ve forgotten that the purpose of these various forms of communication is to, well, communicate. And communication is a two way street: if we’re not saying something that is interesting, entertaining or informative, indeed, if all we’re doing is selling, why on earth should anyone bother listening?

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