Dennis Cooper had been writing a blog for 10 years now. Recently, it all disappeared. This will hit you hard if you have been blogging for a good length of time and have considered the risk of hosting all your writing on a third party’s server. Blogger, Youtube, Facebook, and even newer platforms like Medium are pieces of real estate on which we have all built our virtual homes. Despite best intentions and promises made, the time usually comes that one has to contend with the reality that the web space that we considered our own belongs to someone else.
I wanted to write a little about my reason for writing this email newsletter (and not making it a blog). Though a lot of what I write here eventually makes it to my blogs elsewhere, these letters are where most of my first drafts go. This is deliberate. Content going out as emails in a distributed manner is a strong safeguard against the dangers of having it all in one place from where it can be wiped off overnight. True, keeping backups of your work is always a good idea, but if you are anything like me, you don’t want the bother of all that. You just want to deal with translating your thoughts into words and sending them out to people who want to hear from you.
Email does that. This is not an article or a post or a listicle or a tutorial. This is a message. I am not writing it so that it may rank high in search engine results or trend on social networks. I am writing this because it is on my mind and because I think it is worthy of being on your mind as well. I do blog, but I feel the problems created by our overcrowded content delivery mechanisms can not be solved by more of them.
Blogs are nice. Twitter and Facebook are good too. But email was there before anything else. Email is still here and email will be around for a long time. Email is elegant. That we don’t think about it as much as we think about social networks and fancy new platforms is a testimony to its ubiquity and elegance.
Nobody owns email. There are email service providers but email itself is above all ownership. It is a protocol, not a platform. Someone with a Gmail account can send an email message to someone with a Hotmail account. Quite unlike social networks which lock members in, attempting to become their whole world. A Facebook message can only go to a Facebook user. A Twitter DM conversation can only be had between two Twitter users. We live on networks that do not talk to each other.
If you have ever wondered what the debate between “open web” and “walled gardens” was all about, this is it.
When I am done writing this letter, I will click the send button, not the publish button. I will not save a copy on a server. I will save a copy of it in your mailbox and in the mailbox of everyone else who is subscribed to me. This content is not in any one place, so it can’t be erased the way Dennis Cooper’s blog was.
Personally, I see the act of clicking the send button as the exact opposite of “saving” an essay. I see it as setting it free. Once I send a letter off, I can’t edit it and I can’t take back what I have said. I like to think that this makes me more responsible and a more discerning writer. Being able to reach someone’s email inbox is a privilege that needs to be treated with respect. It demands that I write things of genuine value and that I respect the time that my subscribers have granted me. So I don’t sell things here and I don’t link to interesting websites. I only share my best work in these emails as this medium deserves nothing less.