E-Mail by Larry Dane Brimner
Posted by Tracy Poff on March 27, 2014
Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used America Online. We were so naive as to unironically call the web the ‘information superhighway.’ Google was brand new, and we mostly used Yahoo, Lycos, or Altavista to search the web. Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s 13-year-old eye. We didn’t have Twitter or Tumblr, or even Myspace or Livejournal.
What we did have was email. Back then, we hyphenated it, as a sign of respect for and discomfort with the impressive technology. “E-mail is delivered much faster than regular mail (which some people call ‘snail-mail’),” writes Brimner. “A keypal in another state or even another country usually will receive your e-mail in minutes. That’s great news!”
All of this internet stuff was new enough to most people that books were written to introduce people to the subject. The older set had books like World Wide Web for SeniorZ or Mr. Modem’s Internet Guide for Seniors, the slightly younger crowd had A Parent’s Guide to the Internet, and kids had books like this one, Larry Dane Brimner’s E-Mail.
E-Mail is full of the kind of advice that most of us take for granted, these days. For example, you’ll need a network card or modem, which will “take the signals from your computer and get messages ready to travel over the Information Superhighway.” Brimner helpfully provides a picture of an IBM 7852 model 10 modem, which around that time had dropped in price to only $486.
It’s also got the kind of information we probably should know, but might need to keep in mind: “If you are not careful, you might write and send angry words to somebody else and later wish you hadn’t.” Truth.
E-Mail explains what a flame war is, how to find and subscribe to mailing lists, what emoticons are, and much more. Sprinkled throughout are e-mail addresses that kids might want to try, like Sea World (firstname.lastname@example.org), the USGS (Ask-A-Geologist@usgs.gov), or the President of the United States (email@example.com). The author even includes his own email address (Lbrimner@aol.com).
This book is certainly a product of its time. Besides the screenshots of Eudora circa 1996, it’s got a dated approach to dealing with people you meet on the internet. “Most of the people you’ll meet on the Internet are nice. But be smart. Bad people sometimes hide out on the Internet, and you may not be able to tell who they are . . . If your keypal wants to meet you in person, meet in a public place like a mall. And take an adult with you.”
If that advice had been written today, I imagine it’d go more like “If your keypal wants to meet you in person, run. Don’t stop until you’re surrounded by police. Make sure the police have never used the internet. It’s the only way to be sure.”
Books like E-Mail are fascinating as a view back into how we thought about technology in the past. It’s been about 17 years since this book was published. In some ways, it’s still perfectly correct and even useful. In others, it’s hopelessly dated. How will things look in 2031? I don’t dare to guess.