20 years with email


It’s been over 20 years since I got my first email address. Of course I didn’t know what to do with it – after all an email address is pretty useless if no one else has one  – like the fax machine, a classic illustration of the network effect.  Eventually one of my friends back home got an address so we’d send each other jokes. I know, millions of dollars in technology and equipment and we were sending knock-knock jokes back and forth. Sophisticated, right? Of course we only checked our mail occasionally – typically we had to call each other just to say “hey go check your mail”.

 Obviously we weren’t leveraging the full power of email. But then no one else we knew did either. My computer science professors didn’t really use it – even in simple ways that seem obvious now. No assignments or announcements were sent out by email. Assignments weren’t submitted by email – much less FTP or zip file  – they were submitted on floppies 5 1/4″ and those new-fangled 3 1/2″ floppies (which no one really trusted…).  The only reason I had the address, was because I took a comp sci class and had to request special dispensation to keep my address active after the class was over.

Of course I wasn’t a computer science student so maybe the hard-core comp sci engineers submitted assignments by email but I didn’t know too many of them even though I bounced between multiple different communities in college.  I was a photojournalism major which meant I carried a camera everywhere (at the time a Canon F-1 or T-90) and was always scrounging for film and paper. Because I was also a philosophy major,  I went to parties with people who had long hair, wispy goatees, pale complexions and long, spirited, and very important,  debates about Rousseau, Descartes and Hume and their applicability to the modern world.

Of course neither of those things paid my bills so I was a resident assistant for three years working about 30 hours a week which paid me the princely sum of $129.36 a month plus room and board. In addition I worked as a pizza delivery driver for possibly the best pizza place in the world. http://www.shakespeares.com/ , was a party pic guy taking pictures at parties, worked as bouncer and even spent one shift a week for a few years as NPR announcer for KBIA 91.3, your station for classical music and news.  Every one of those jobs gave me entre into another community and another set of friends.

I’m not sure if email would have made my life easier back then since I could only check it in a few computer labs and most of the campus computers couldn’t access the Unix-based email system.  But as I watch young adults in college email isn’t something they use in the same way. Between texting and twitter, RSS feeds, facebook and IM’ing the college students I know don’t really think to check their email as part of their daily existence. I wonder what email will like in another 20 years or if it will even be here. What do you think? When did you get your first email address?

-t

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