October 14, 2006

Gmail is forever

When I in college, I can remember writing SWAK on the flap of an envelope: Sealed With A Kiss. As my tongue brushed the sharp edges of the envelope, I could imagine that I was sending a kiss through the mail, a kiss my boyfriend would get a few days later. I have boxes of old love letters in my basement, many of the envelopes bearing that acronym. And I have the letters my mother sent me while I was in college, many with scotch tape still clinging to the edges because I used to tape the funny ones on my door for my friends to read. I've got the letters my father send me to, a series of dashes and dots written on yellow legal paper, because he liked to send letters in Morse Code. I've got a whole stack of letters written on familiar blue airmail sheets from the semester I lived in London. Someday, I'll look through those letters to get a glimpse of my life and who I was at that age.

I wonder what young people do now to indicate that an email they've sent is a love letter. Is there some acronym they can put in the subject line? Perhaps TWAC? Typed With a Caress? Or SWLS? Sent With Loving Strokes? I think fingers touching a keyboard could invoke a loving image the way that lips touching an envelope might, but it really doesn't lend itself to a catchy acronym.

But the strangest thing, I think, is that my kids won't come home from college next May with boxes of letters to be put in the basement. Emails are easily deleted, and instant messages disappear the same day they are typed. Saved emails last only as long as the computer, and the life span of the average computer seems to be decreasing all the time. Text messages are deleted with a quick touch minutes after they've been sent.

My instinct is to save words, to fold them into bundles, store them in boxes, archiving the relationships in my life. So it makes me nervous to think of all the emails we write -- some serious, some silly, some heartfelt -- disappearing almost as they've been read.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hee. Not been reading the news much lately, eh, jo(e)? I betcha there are a lot of higher-ups in the Republican party who WISH instant messages disappeared the same day they were typed.

chichimama said...

That's part of why I blog. It is my version of saving letters. Now I just need to remember to archive the posts somehow.

zelda1 said...

My niece and I exchange emails on a daily basis, she is ten. She tells me that I am like her diary and she tells me everything. WEll, about once a month, I print out all our emails and save them, yep, someday, she might want to see who that little girl was that told her great aunt all those secrets. So, that's my solution, I print them and put them in folders. For me, though, my emails, like the ones from the Good Son or the hubby or friends, I save them on my pc. I have tons of them. Maybe I should print them too and make a little book. It has been done before, between a woman and her friend who was in Iraq. I have only a few of my letters from my childhood. I wish I had saved them all, especially those written by me and to me when I was at summer camp.

ppolarbear said...

My dad prints out emails. I discovered this while looking for typing paper in his desk. There is a folder for each of the people he likes best.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I have a trunk of letters as well, but I don't remember the last time I received one. My old friend RocketBoy and I wrote each other endless letters while we were in college; I would complain that my mailbox was full of cobwebs, and he'd send fat envelopes covered with drawings of little armies coming to shoo away the mailbox spiders. You just can't do that with email.

Yankee, Transferred said...

The Attorney and I write to Older Daughter several times a week. Real letters on real paper with our real handwriting, because my mother and father did that for me and, like you, I still have them all.
OD told me yesterday that she's saving my letters forever.
Now, if she'd only reciprocate!

Preacher Mom said...

I have a stack of letters that my great-grandmother saved and they are such a treasure to me. But I'll admit that I've been sucked into the ease of electronic communication. I really like some of the ideas posted here!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I have faxes sent to me by my parents -- my mom faxed me once a week when I lived in Latvia.

Rev Dr Mom said...

I used to be a real letter writer; when my mil died, the lovely daughters brought home a box with some of the letters I had written to her when I was in Iceland.

I save a lot of emails, but I suspect over time, that won't be the same. There's something about seeing the handwriting and smelling the old paper...

Marie said...

I hope the digital versions last... I hate stacks of paper. I can't stand the idea of printing out emails. Does that make me a Philistine?

sam said...

I have 8 or so years of pretty consistant instant message transcripts.... it's kinda creepy actually...

BeachMama said...

I miss letter writing. I so love to receive letters and notes in the mail. Email just isn't the same somehow.

Songbird said...

I've kept the IMs from the beginning of my relationship with Pure Luck, and they are fun to read over again. But the few pieces of hand-written correspondence are real treasures.

Chip said...

I have all my emails from the earliest days, dating back to 1995 and possibly even earlier. Of course, a huge electro-magnetic pulse would wipe them all out in an instant. And there really isn't anything like the actual feel of paper, actual handwriting...

Kai said...

I pdf all my "love" email and burn it onto a CD....it's not the same as rifling through a box of letters, but scrolling through the pages still evokes wonderful memories of a now past love. I was also fortunate that my ex still believed in letter writing and would often send me letters in the mail, even when we lived together. As Chip said, there is nothing like the the feeling of handwriting pressed into a card or letter.

comebacknikki said...

My dad died during the spring semester of my freshman year of college. Ten years later, I still have the letters he wrote me during the fall semester. It makes me so happy to see his handwriting and to know that he was thinking of me enough to write a letter separate from my mom.

comebacknikki said...

(Okay, I wasn't finished writing... something wigged out and my comment published before I finished. Weird!)

Seeing my father's handwriting also helps remind me that he was a real person and was actually in my life at one point. I know that may sound weird, but sometimes, there's a part of me that doesn't feel like he ever existed - like he's some figment of my imagination. The letters ground me and keep me tied to him.

jess said...

I have boxes and boxes of letters...and I'm only 25. Firm believer in hand-written letters. Technically, you could manage to save an electronic copy of an email, as long as you kept converting & saving it with new technology. More trouble, but less likely to crumble in your hands. But you don't have the same residue on an electronic file - the spill of coffee, the handwriting, the stamp...

Anonymous said...

Delurking to say that my parents printed out every single e-mail I sent them while I was in college. I think they still have the whole collection.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I save my good emails! I used to print them and put them in a looseleaf, but got too cumbersome. And I do admit that many disappear. I just canceled my subsciption to earthlink and I hadn't downloaded them for a long time so all the emails there just popped into nonexistence without my ever having even seen them once. I was really sad about it, but had no really good way to downlaod them. The coputer I was suing wasn't set up for that and I didn't have time to do it.

I finally got subscribed to your blog, but haven't figured out how to get a blogroll yet.

cieux autres said...

I've always wished I could write more letters. Instead, I write comments on papers--the closest I come to a personal, written connection. Even as sporadic as I am, I still try to hand write letters to friends. Nothing captures the anticipation of receiving a letter in the mailbox.

DevilMacDawg said...

A timely post. Today, I went back into my e-mail archives to read the random bits I had received from my father in law. He's been gone over a year now, but I still have every e-mail he ever sent me. I am very glad gmail is forever.... :)