Sam's notebook

Email-letters February 25th, 2018, 9AM


I’ve been attempting to write to people again lately. As in, proper letters on paper and in envelopes and stuck through holes in walls and doors. It doesn’t work though. Ten years ago I wrote to people, and it was reasonably easy although one had to ignore the anachronistic self-consciousness. Now, it feels like writing a telegram, for all the relevance it has to modern life. And doing so on some sort of rare letterpress’d form at that — the mechanics have become harder, the whole thing far less familiar. Where even is there a post box around here? Do stamps still come in booklets? What’s it even cost to send a letter? Only people having weddings send things in the post these days.

I once wrote a little system for writing email-letters. It was a bit like Gmail’s system of having the reply-box at the bottom of the to-and-fro conversation, except it went to further extremes of actually deleting the quoted reply text from emails, and of actually tracking correspondents as entities in their own right and not just by email address. It also prohibited writing to more than one person at once.

It feels like there’s a place for a letter-writing system that really is just email but also isn’t one’s normal email client (be that Fastmail, Gmail, Thunderbird, or whatever). Writing to a friend should be a different act to tapping off a note to a colleague or haggling with a civil servant. The user interface should reflect that. It should be simpler, calmer, and prioritise longer paragraphs and better grammar. (I’ve read similar sentiments relating to the design of the Discourse forum software; the developers of that want the software to shunt people towards better discussions, and I’m pretty sure Google don’t have anything like that idea with the Gmail interface. No one wants to write a letter on a blotter edged with full-colour advertisements for Fletcher’s Fantastic Fumigator, and Google want you to use the exact same interface for work and for social interaction. Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.)

I’d still be using my email archiver, but it dates from an age before two-factor authentication, and improvements in the security of email providers broke it and I’ve not yet gotten around to fixing it. Perhaps it’s time to do so.

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