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Posted at 11:57 AM ET, 12/21/2010

The death of e-mail?

By Alexandra Petri


If I were the typical white-haired gentleman who churns out stories every week about New Communication Trends in a doleful monotone, this would have opened with the line "@Rome0, @Rome0, a/s/l?", because to me that would have seemed hip, yet evocative of a bygone era in which communication was rarefied and poetic.

Whenever the New York Times sees its own shadow, it dives into a dark recess of the Internet and emerges with a story about the New Web's role in transforming communication.

Yesterday it informed us that e-mail is passé. Subject lines? They get in the way of communication! That's what kids today want: raw, uncensored communication.

The idea that e-mail is dying (Gmail saw a 10 percent increase in usage in the past year, but who's counting?) and incomprehensibly short text messages and Facebook communiques are taking its place is as seductive as it is fallacious.

But it's a generational thing. Someone once said that whenever you turn 30, something terrible always happens to music. I expect the same is true of communications. Letters were far superior to phone calls, prior generations insisted. Phone calls were at least more human than e-mails, the next shot back. It's nostalgia, whose Ancient Greek roots roughly translate to "homesickness." This creeping homesickness for the past steals upon all writers at some point and drives them to insist that, in their day, men were taller, women more virtuous, the grass greener, and policies more just. Of course, during these same apparently halcyon days, an older writer was complaining that the men were short, the women loose, the grass largely ragweed, and the policies utterly corrupt -- that things, in general, had far declined since his own day. It's a rite of passage.

Then again, no one ever lamented the lost art of telegram writing.

The only thing I have to lament about the passing of telegrams is that, once, someone sent a telegram that read "HOW OLD CARY GRANT" and Cary Grant responded "OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?" I can't think of any context today in which this could happen. I mourn that.

But from my perspective as a twenty-something or other, the rundown is as follows: Letters? Inconvenient -- and they kill trees! You can't spend our lives urging us to save the trees if you're going to turn around and insist we write thank you letters.

Phone calls? Awkward! If someone offered you the choice between a form of communication where you could not see the other person but could hear him or her breathing, and there would be long awkward pauses, or one in which you were able to communicate swiftly and zappily, using words you were able to think out beforehand, which would you choose? So what if it's shorter? The meaning still gets through.

Sure, it's a strange coincidence that all the forms of communication that used to typify politeness and consideration to others were the first to go. Hand written thank you notes? That's so inefficient! And I'm sure Uncle Mark could tell I appreciated that gift, because I sort of glanced up from my Blackberry and smiled. Holiday cards? Why send real cards when you can have an animated graphic of my head caroling at you on loop? Besides, you didn't really want to know what my family of eight was doing, and that Tyler was making real strides in his bassoon-playing. So, in a way, I am doing you a favor. Postcards? I sent you a text message from Milan, and it was much more expensive. You should frame it.

Holding the door? Is there an app for that?

Look, the old ways were slow and redundant and purposeless. We're just trying to be efficient! Yeah, that's what this generation is all about: communications efficiency, which allows us to get back to doing - uh, whatever it was we were doing.

Earlier, I was watching this video of two cats playing patty-cake, but usually I must be doing something important.

This is the part where, if I were over 50 years old and writing about this in order to seem hip, I would have typed "o rly?"

Maybe I would have had a point.

By Alexandra Petri  | December 21, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
Categories:  Only on the Internet, Petri, Seems Suspect  | Tags:  email, kids these days  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Let us eat s'mores! Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and desserts
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In the future we will just have headlines. Those who are now paid writers will have to fight it out in the comments section with the rest of us crazies.

Dear yoots, You want raw communication? Try smoke signals, yo.

Posted by: veritasinmedium | December 21, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse


Oh, good, I guess that means that you got our Christmas present?

Uncle Mark (and Aunt Julie)

PS -- No thank you note required!

Posted by: mpetri1 | December 21, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Not understanding the art of saying Thank You and having manners can cost you. Never lose touch with basic graces. There are consequenses for being rude and lacking an understanding of how to thank people. If someone fails to acknowledge a gift I give them, I have vowed to never give them a gift again. A glance, as suggested by the writer as being sufficient for appreciation to a gift giver is just plain rude, and bad manners. I favor relatives that write me a Thank You note personally. I appreciate an email thank you. I respect job applicants that thank me for an interview formally or in writing. I would hire a person with good manners over one that lacks manners in a heart beat. I would advance an employee with good manners over one lacking those important people skills.
My will is written to include those relatives that are appreciative. To the ungrateful, self absorbed, who lacked the abilty to thank me properly for gifts I leave zero.

Posted by: char7777 | December 22, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

To char7777: Thank you so much for sharing. If you'd like to write me into your will, it's spelled "d.i.v.t.u.n.e."

But if you want to make it past St. Peter, you might want to remember this:

"It is more blessed to give than to receive." - Acts 20:35
To Uncle Mark (and Aunt Julie): Thank you for not worrying about thank you's. That's the best present of all.
Back when I was a boy, we had Ham radio, and a whole set of morse code abbreviations. We used to say "73 OM" which meant "best wishes old man." That was back when I wanted to be older. Those were the good old man days!

Everything old is new again. At least I hope so.

Posted by: divtune | December 22, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

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