Sending digital messages from computer to computer began over ARPANET, the beginning of our modern Internet, in the early 1970s. The average person didn't gain access until the 1990s or later. But now pretty much everyone has an e-mail address, possibly several. It's a quick and easy method of communication that's put a dent in personal letter writing, phone conversation and face-to-face meetings. The nearly instantaneous nature of e-mail and other digital communication methods have made communication over a distance far easier than it used to be, and has led many people to call traditional physical correspondence "snail mail." There's even an e-mail version of junk physical mail: spam.
Emailing is cheaper and easier than hand writing letters in a lot of ways. There's no postage, paper or ink to buy. Hitting the send button takes much less effort than stamping and mailing a letter. The typical home in the U.S. apparently received a letter every two weeks in 1987, but it was down to once every seven weeks in 2010, not counting greeting cards or invitations [source: Schmid]. But even invitations and greeting cards have going digital. According to a 2011 Pew Internet survey, at that time 92 percent of adults in the U.S. who got online used e-mail, 61 percent of them used it on a typical day and 70 percent of all Americans used e-mail to some extent [source: Purcell].
And people aren't just sending personal e-mails. Just about anyone who works on a computer has a work e-mail via which they correspond with coworkers or clients, send documents, set up meetings and the like. Even at home, we're not just sending the equivalent of the long letters of yore. We are sending quick questions, links to websites, and attach documents, pictures, music and video files.
Much of the novelty of e-mail has diminished, and quick communication is now increasingly taking place via phone text messages, instant messaging and social media.