How many years were you on this earth, stumbling through a completely analog life like a neanderthal, pre-fire? In other words, how old were you when the internet became household-accessible? If you were grown or nearly grown, you vividly remember a time when research had to be done at libraries, old news and magazine articles had to be searched using microfiche, and encyclopedias were the more accurate–if occasionally dated–version of Wikipedia.
But what you may remember best of all is how difficult it could be to get in touch with people in a timely fashion. Landline phones were still more prominent than cell phones and even if you and your friends had cells, there was no texting yet.
Enter the personal email account. When the internet finally began making its way to homes and schools, an email account with a catchy handle was all the rage–especially for high school or college-aged kids. Hotmail and Yahoo were the hosts of choice, since they were free, but if you were job-hunting, paid accounts like AOL or Earthlink were deemed more credible. Though Hotmail is still a preferred account site for a large number of people (to the tune of 324 million, currently… Seriously? Who are you folks?), Gmail is taking over. At only six years old, it’s quickly closing the user gap with Hotmail at a current 278 million users.
Microsoft is responding by replacing Hotmail with Outlook.com, a web-based email site that intends to make the interface more streamlined:
The first thing you’ll notice about the new interface is the simplicity of design. The ads are much less obnoxious, and the look and feel are generally more streamlined than before. Outlook also includes the ability to connect to your social networks, so now you can see Facebook status updates, tweets or LinkedIn posts in your inbox.
It’s a nice effort, but it may be too little, too late. If earlier in this piece, I talked about personal email as though it’s a thing of the past, that’s because, in some ways, it is. While we still rely on it for corporate correspondence and the quick note to make plans, texting has, by and large, replaced it for personal exchanges (the idea being, I guess, that a person would receive, read, and respond to a text a lot faster than an email). When it first hit the scene, email messages could be long missives–the electronic version of a carefully crafted letter to a friend of relative. Sometimes, they were even proofread, edited, and pored over before sending. But once they were sent, you felt an instant gratification unlike any trip to the post office you’d ever made.
The news of Hotmail’s overhaul and name-change feels like the end of an era for folks who remember when Hotmail first hit the scene. But we can still relive the glory days when we spent hours trying to come up with the most memorable, attention-grabbing handle for our addresses. I still remember my first two. My mother came up with them: [email protected] and [email protected]. “Because you’ve been drinking tea since you were a baby, and one of your aunts calls you Tea.” I also used to write poetry. Lame, in retrospect, dope at the time.
Do you remember your first email account? Do you still have it? What were you calling yourself back then? What’s the best email you ever received?