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Review: Email is (Not) Dead

★★★★★


It altogether felt like voyeurism, like I was an unwelcome stranger looking through the sheer curtains separating an entirely individual love story from the drudgery of the outside world. It felt wrong to take a picture (and so I alas have none), but it also felt wrong not to stop and read it. And so there I was, along with ten other people, reading an email sent from an ex-lover to the man who had just broken up with her.

Breathing in the medley of bergamot, geranium, sage, lavender, and sandalwood—what sending an email feels like, according to Something Special Studios and Tatiana Godoy Betancur—I walked through the history of email from its origin in the 1970s to a predicted 2070, when emailing will likely become exceedingly “smarter” and more personalized. Emphasising its prevalence throughout everyday life, the ironically named Email is Dead exhibit at the Design Museum presents visitors with evidence that email is in fact very much alive and well—apparently especially when we are watching TV, in bed, and on vacation.


Courtesy of Mailchimp’s creative team, Wink, the innovative exhibit features a bright yellow wall plastered with iconic moments in email history ranging from 1971, when Ray Tomlinson sent the first ever email (“qwertyuiop”), to 1982, when Scott Fahlman created the first emoticon :-), to 1991, when the first email from outer space was sent (“Hello, Earth!"), and finally to 2023, when an average of 373.3 billion emails are sent daily. This part of the exhibit even reminded me of my former days as an undergrad at NYU, as according to the timeline, in 2021, the first “reply-all-calypse” occurred when an NYU student replied to 40,000 students (it could’ve been any of us, really).

The exhibit then beckons visitors down a winding hall, where emails capturing pivotal moments, ranging from blossoming company ideas to job acceptances to breakup aftermaths, are displayed, reinforcing the deeply personal and yet somehow beautifully unifying nature of email throughout the years. Every part of the exhibition seemed to be reaching welcoming arms out, begging to be read, touched, and seen.




A comical iPhone with tiny umbrellas captioned “mobile umbrella—attach this mini-umbrella to your phone so you can send emails even while walking through the London rain” and an egregious “thought transmitting helmet” promising to read thoughts and formulate perfect email responses further add to the lighthearted nature of the exhibit. The exhibit culminates in a whimsical room with cloud-shaped seating areas under a mirror ceiling in which viewers are encouraged to relax and craft emails to their future selves through a MailChimp initiative.

I highly recommend visiting the exhibit and the thoughtfully curated exhibition certainly left me convinced that now, more than ever, especially with the rise of artificial intelligence, email is becoming increasingly personalised, tailored, and widely used. Email continues to rouse, excite, disappoint, encourage, and everything in between, reflecting some of the core tenets of what make us human—connectivity and hope.

Kind regards—

 

Edited by Faye Elder, London and Beyond Editor



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