There was a time — roughly from the 1950s through the 1990s — when TV was pretty much the thing for American families who wanted to share time together by consuming media. Yes, you could play games together, but it was hard to find games that parents and children would enjoy equally well. And movies were a “once a week” thing — something you went out to the cinema to see on a Friday night — not something you did every day.
But every night, without fail, most families would get together, gather around their TV after dinner, and watch whatever was that night’s prime time hit show. And then mom and dad (and maybe the older kids too) would stay up to see the Tonight Show. This pre-packaged way of spending time with your family was such a given, that after a while people stopped thinking about it.
Until, that is, it started to go away. The rise of the Web, and more compelling computer games, and even TV on demand, has, over the course of the last decade, gradually dismantled the entire concept of a family getting together at one place and time to have a shared media-consuming experience. Now when we see images of mom and dad and the kids all sitting around the living room watching TV, it feels like a window into another time, a time that is gradually receding into history.
And now I think the same thing is starting to happen with email. Once email was unassailable — the great connector, mighty cybernetic unifier, bringer together of worlds, killer of postage stamps. But now that we have Facebook, Twitter, micro-blogging, MMORPGs and various forms of on-line chat, it seems that the once mighty email — the electronic version of the long-form letter — has started to go the way of its tree-killing forebear. In just a few short years, the very idea that one would take the time to compose a fully formed personal communication with a beginning, a middle and an end has started to look like a relic of another age.
And I feel sad about it.