October 12, 2005

EARLY AMERICAN EMAIL?

Guest Opinion Submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo

EARLY AMERICAN EMAIL?Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike CrapoWhat it would have been like had there been e-mail in our early American history?Think of it, "The Compiled E-mails of Thomas Jefferson" or perhaps, the "Instant Messages of the Lewis and Clark Expedition." Although our third President may have delighted in e-mail, somehow it just wouldn't seem right for Thomas Jefferson to do anything but write letters. Itâ??s amusing to think about: one of my favorites would be an e-mail to King George III from the Continental Congress with a Word Document attachment entitled, "Declaration of Independence." No doubt, it would have had a return receipt as well.Still, it just doesn't have quite the same effect, does it?E-mail, for all its benefits, sometimes just doesn't stack up against an old fashioned letter. Reading a letter from Thomas Jefferson is like reading an essay. There is thought, consideration, deliberation, argument and humor. That's not to say the same isn't possible with e-mail, but let's face it, how many e-mails have you read that would be worth publishing in fifty years?Another factor that made writing letters in the 18th century a little more challenging was the time involved. They didn't have ball point pens back then and paper was expensive. Consequently, the author carefully crafted every word and every sentence. To get it to the post office and mailed, no small journey in 18th century rural Virginia, was quite an endeavor as well. After which, in four to six weeks, it got to its recipient. However, if the letter was bound overseas, three to six months would be more in order. That is, if the ship didn't sink or get set upon by pirates.To a generation so used to the world of the Internet and e-mail that might sound like a bit of a nightmare, but it did have its advantages.First, if you were mad, emotional, or just petulant, and were ready to tell someone off, there was plenty of time to cool down, count to a hundred several times, and think better of what you were writing. As users of e-mail have learned, this is a common problem. Mind you, even in early America, there were still plenty of times when letters that shouldn't have been sent were mailed just the same. However, without that handy "send" key ready and waiting for that one quick click, probably more than a few never made it to the post office. And as the result, a lot of people kept their jobs or, given the era, simply avoided being killed in a duel.Also, in those days you weren't writing with the assumption that the message would be read instantly. Given the time involved, content took on a whole new character. It was often more philosophical and more reflective.I have no doubt that when it comes to speed, efficiency, and just bringing people closer together that e-mail definitely wins the competition with conventional mail. Itâ??s a blessing for many military families to have close to instantaneous and far more frequent contact with their loved ones in harmâ??s way. Email has provided Idahoans with a much more efficient and paper-saving way to voice their opinions to me and now, I have the technological capability to respond via email as well. As with any new technology, email should be fun, effective and utilized with care. We can take lessons of civility, professionalism and courtesy and apply them to this wonderful modern form of communication. And for old timesâ?? sake, take the time to write a letter periodicallyâ??itâ??s a great exercise for the mind!WORD COUNT: 596