The olden inbox

I was reading a discussion of the “vernacular web” by internet artist and theorist Olia Lialina. Amid her exploration of the elements that made up classic mid-’90s webpages, she talks about how in those olden webpages, at the bottom of each page, there’d be a link imploring the visitor to email me.

And I read it and chuckled a little at memories of how webpages used to be. But then I read this in her closing paragraph:

Getting emails from visitors to my site is something I really miss, more than starry night backgrounds and clumsy framesets.

I cranked opened my old mail app and trawled through some emails from almost 10 years ago, from random people out there who were just emailing to say stuff. I felt like I was glimpsing a relic of a bygone era, a less hip version of those photos of modern Detroit ruins.

I had my tonsils out on Saturday. So i searched the internet and came across your site. May I say how you describe the experience amazingly?? You made me laugh, and then cry, because it hurt too much to laugh!!
– Jo

I thought I’d send you a postcard of the home town you escaped.
– Ross


I am at work on a saturday nite (UGH) but your very unique POV has made the last few minutes tres interesting
– Jermeny

No postings for a while, I hope that you are OK.
– Harry

Thanks for brief tour from a fat, balding, impotent, socially dysfunctional sexual pervert with a small willy who is afraid of women (and horses)! Have a safe one!
– Paul

I stumbled on your weblog just now and thought it’s the best thing I’ve read for ages.. I never get around to complimenting people on stuff like that, so today’s the day. nice one.
– Vanessa

I have trouble buying shoes too. It sucks.
– Cherie

Back then, I’d usually reply. Sometimes it would end at that, but other times it would turn into a bit of to-and-fro correspondence, and a few times I ended up meeting the person on the other end of the email, and occasionally friendships were formed.

And I’d do the same when I came across a webpage I enjoyed. I’d send off emails with slightly guilty admissions. “I stayed up all night looking at your photos of historic Minneapolis! Your website is great!”

On average, I received about two or three emails via my website a month. But now, I’d probably get that many emails in a year. And – curiously enough – the people who do email tend to be older. My inbox is instead filled with mailing lists and bacn – those emails you sign up for but never actually read.

So where is the website feedback today? Well, with my website now in WordPress, there is room for comments at the foot of every post. On the chur post, this has turned into a space for people to share their theories of the word’s origin. (It’s short for Christchurch! No, Howard Morrison invented it! No, it’s Jamaican! No, it’s…) On the Newton post, codgers share their memories of the pre-motorway suburb.

But there’s no specific space for general comments of the “Oh hey, I dig your blog.” variety.

Then there’s Facebook. I have a feed of my blog going to my Facebook profile, so there’s also the ability to comment there. But you know what mainly happens? Yeah, Like. Like, Like, Like, Like, Like and Like.

It’s so much easier to click Like than to actually write something. But that’s ok. Clicking Like can say, “I have read the thing you wrote, I appreciate it but I don’t really have anything else to add .” And I’d much rather get a Like than those empty cliches such as “Wow. Just wow.”, “This.” or “Genius”.

Facebook private messages are similar to email, but for someone who doesn’t know me, it’s not as easy to message me on Facebook as it is (was?) to send an email.

So I’m slightly reluctantly accepting that the days of magic email are over. Email has changed into a different thing from what it was 10 years ago. I miss the specialness of getting spontaneous email from either from friends or strangers, but I’m not about to form a “I miss email!!!!” Facebook group. Instead I put my trust in the awesomeness of people in general to keep the magic alive in other forms of online communication.

3 thoughts on “The olden inbox”

  1. Some research I was reading recently used the provision of an author’s email address as a mark of interactivity. It made sense for the period of time from which the data was gathered, but threw me back in my mind to an internet in which news reporting wasn’t immediately followed by a long tail of snark, throwaway opinions and bigotry. Comments-interactivity on news websites has reduced my participation in said websites, because I so often exercise poor judgement, read some comments, and then feel bilious.

  2. Robyn, this would be a perfect opportunity for me to say how much I enjoy your blog (and yours also, Harvestbird!) 🙂
    I don’t generally comment because I can’t think of anything brainy and relevant to contribute, and I don’t want to be one of those fatuous commenters who’s always agreeing with everything, or lol-ing, or something equally tiresome. But the flipside of that is you may wonder if you’re just talking to yourself….

    I think news sites shouldn’t allow commenting, it never adds value, and can be highly inappropriate. This is why we have talkback radio, so those people can talk to each other and not bother the rest of us.

    One thing that always amazes me about Public Address is how it has a whole culture of smart, sensitive discussion. I don’t know anywhere else on the web that’s made interactivity work like that. And don’t get me started on YouTube comments, gah!!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yeah, it’s curious how when news sites give people the opportunity to “have your say”, their always seem to be comments just for the sake of commenting. YouTube comments are sometimes quite entertaining. I think PA System works because people are generally encouraged to post under their own name, and the sense of community means no one’s going to flame and run.

Leave a Reply