There’s been a lot of talk lately about email. The majority of this recent writing has been about Google’s acquisition of Sparrow, a much-heralded Mac and iOS email client. Bloggers, tech pundits and average dudes are waxing philosophical about the health of the independent developer community, sustainable business models and the relevance of email itself. Good times.
Spoiler: This post is also about email. It’s about email in its most basic state, irrespective of the client or vendor. It’s about potential. It’s about privacy. It’s about the promise of an agnostic platform in an age of proprietary prairies.
Let me explain.
For the past five years, I’ve been writing emails to my son. Shortly after he was born in 2007, I created an email account in his name so I could write to him throughout his childhood and then turn the account over to him when he was of age. Upon opening the account for the first time, he’d be greeted with an archive of his childhood as seen through his father’s eyes.
To date, I’ve sent him a wide array of messages ranging from short one-sentence emails just to let him know I love him to photos of special moments we’ve shared together to diary-like entries that chronicle his developments and our family’s journey together. Our daughter is due to arrive later next month, and I just created an account for her, now that we’ve decided on her name. I sent my first email to my unborn daughter last night.
So why email? Why not a private Facebook page or maybe a shared Evernote notebook? For me, the answers are simple. Ownership and privacy. I want to ensure ownership of the content stays with my children and that the content remains private. I’m talking about privacy in the simplest sense of the word here, not the kind of privacy networks like Facebook lead users to believe is the new standard.
Yes, I understand email can be hacked and messages can be leaked. I don’t believe total information security exists, so given the alternatives, email seems to be the least of all evils. Once content leaves our brains and becomes formalized in the ether, be it in a Moleskine journal or online, the concept of total and complete security flies out the window.
The idea here is that I want this content to exist for my kids in the long-term — when they turn 12 or 14 or 16 or whatever age is appropriate to start tooling around on the internet. Hell, my kids may look at email the way I looked at my Dad’s bell-bottoms when I was 14 and want no part of it. The point though, is that my notes will be available should they desire to access them. And I think they will. They’re good kids.
A lot of users are placing a lot of faith in Facebook and Twitter and Squarespace at the moment, but who ultimately owns the content published on those respective platforms and where will that record of life moments be in five, fifteen or twenty-five years? I’d wager that email will still be around in some form. Facebook? Not so much. Good luck exporting that content from a walled garden.
For all the flack email has been receiving lately, it’s value is proven. Sure, it’s a pain to manage professionally and inboxes are exploding with spam and bacn for many. Efficiently managed, though, email can be a beautiful thing. Email can be a living portal to years of moments — all indexed, timestamped and contextual.
I took my son to a local amusement park the other day. Just the two of us on a “Dude’s Day,” as we like to call these excursions. The amusement park was hosting a Superhero meet-and-greet, where kids could meet Spiderman, Hulk, Thor and Captain America. My son is a huge superhero fan, so he was naturally excited. We were both looking forward to this time together for days leading up to the event.
What surprised me, though, was this: As we waited in line to meet the first hero, he asked if I could take his picture and send it to his email. In that moment I realized that he understands what I’m doing and wants to be a part of it. He’s excited and eager to have access to these notes down the road. I think that’s super cool and it makes my effort worthwile.
Email isn’t perfect. Nothing is. But in this instant, and for this purpose, it’s the most appropriate tool for the job.