Telegrams: the original e-mail.
No, really! Just think about it: they went out right away, unlike regular mail. Of course, you also had to pay by the word and your space was limited, so maybe “the original texting” would be a more apt comparison.
Today at the museum, I was adding some documents to the computer catalog. And one of the folders I went through was of telegrams from 1936. I think I started getting the e-mail vibe from the two that were both sent on Aug. 31–from the same sender to the same recipient!–and the reply the next day. The two from Aug. 31 were sent ten minutes apart, btw.
Of course, there are also problems with looking at telegrams now. I didn’t need to read them to add them to the catalog, and for the most part I didn’t bother, aside from looking at the sender and the addressee, and maybe a brief glance at the contents. But on one of them, that brief glance at the contents gave me a double take. I’ll quote it here, just as I saw it:
WILL SEND AUTHORIZATIONS AS RECOMMENDED BY SCRIBNER STOP ASKING MY MY WIFE TO FORWARD WATCH
My first thought was “whoa, I’m not sure who’s ruder, the guy asking the other guy’s wife for a watch, or the way he’s just going “stop asking!””
And then I remembered that “stop” means the end of a sentence.
I felt pretty stupid about that. (In my own defense, some of the telegrams had been written out normally. I guess some of the people receiving the message wanted to be nice to their customers by reverting it to normal text, converting the “stop” to a period, and not doing it in all caps, stuff like that.)