If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like sending mail off Mackinac island, or receiving mail on the island, let me tell you a little something about that. The mailing process in my hometown is an interesting one. I can send anything I want, just like anyone else in any other town, but for me and my fellow island neighbors, I also have to keep the boat schedule in mind. Everything – including mail – leaves the island before 2pm. So if I don’t get my letter in the mail by then, I won’t expect it to leave until the next day. It’s even worse on Saturdays, because nothing leaves the island. Not a thing. I’d have to wait until Monday if I wanted to have the peace of mind of knowing that my bills, letters, and postcards have left on the boat. Growing up, I felt a little stuck having to stick to this kind of schedule when writing letters to my friends. Then enter the email.
I was in middle school when email started to become relevant in my life. My first email was a hotmail account set up by my brother, who used my first and middle name as the address, separated by an underscore (apparently the underscore was very popular for my generation). I was pretty excited, even if I didn’t have anyone to email yet. Finally, a way to write to my friends during the summer without having to spend time decorating the envelope, buying a stamp and mailing it in time to leave town. I could get an instant reply as well, which was equally as intriquing.
What I found was that it wasn’t intriguing at all. Before the summer had even started, I was writing emails to my friends during the school year, who shared the same classroom as me, and I’d just talk to her in class. Or, she’d email me during the next class period. Except for the occasional emoticon and colored text (which I did think was pretty neat), there was something missing from this thing called email… mystery.
Before, I would have to wait days, or even weeks, before I would hear a reply from someone. I’d get all excited wondering what day they received my letter, what they’d write back to me, and how long it would take to reach my P.O. box. Now, I didn’t have to worry about it. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to care. Is that what I really wanted out of the relationships between my friends and I? As the years passed, I realized that there actually was more of a purpose behind email than I thought. My dad had started hiring workers from other countries as part of a work study visa to come work at the fudge shop, and I quickly made fast friendships with them. Knowing that they’d be going back home at the end of the summer, I quickly gathered up all of their emails to be prepared to write to them during the winter months. Who could imagine having to wait even LONGER than the usual couple of days/weeks for an overseas letter!? I couldn’t. I slowly found a purpose behind the email. Email became the new letter, and the letter became that exciting new thing that you NEVER get that seemed to contain amazing and surprising messages no matter how mundane the message was. Nowadays, my friends and I always complain that we never get any mail, except for the occasional junk mail or bill. That’s probably why I like postcards so much… quick, colorful, and less expensive than a letter. And it’s still fun!
Anyway, for a time I did find email a little more mysterious, as the internet access on Mackinac Island during my college years wasn’t as prevalent as it is now. If you were to come here now, you can go anywhere on Grand Hotel property and be able to connect wirelessly to their wifi service. I have wifi service at my house, as well as at work. But back then? I was signing up at the library to get a turn to use the internet on one of their two computers. Every time my friends and I went dancing at the Grand, we’d sneak into the computer room to check our email before heading into the Terrace Room for another foxtrot. I felt as though I was sneaking around to get to my email. And I had fun doing it!
Then the years that I was in college was when Facebook started to form. I think I was either a sophomore or junior when I first joined… I remember holding off for as long as I could, thinking that it wasn’t necessary… and when I joined, I was hooked. Photos, status updates, event invites, and of course, messages, all became part of the relationship building process we all know now as social networking. The emails that I was sending to friends to keep in touch with them stopped almost immediately. What’s the point when I can do it all online in one place?
Well, it turns out that having an email is still an important thing to have when you’re running your own business, say, as a freelance wedding musician, which is still the way that I get the most inquiries about my music services. I could message them more information, and attach contracts and a song list for immediate downloading and printing for them to send back. Email changed from mainly a friendship interaction tool, into mainly a business tool. Now, I keep in touch with my friends and with what they’re doing by what shows up in my Facebook newsfeed. I use email to interact with potential and current clients.
If you ask me, letters have, and always will, retain their excitement and mystery.
(That goes for postcards, too).