How Much Has Email And Catfishing Changed Since “You’ve Got Mail”?

When it comes to baiting our romantic interests online, a lot has changed since 1998 — just not in the ways you might think. Welcome to Catfishing 1.0.

There are only two reasons why anyone would watch You’ve Got Mail these days:

• Tom Hanks (forever, for always, call me).
• To laugh at those losers with their hilarious dial-up connections: brrrdppshhhkkkkkkrrrr​kbingbingbingbssshhhuiuiuiWELCOME.

But if you’re expecting 90 minutes of entertainment based on archaic technologies during which you can sit on your throne made of iPad Minis and proclaim, “Inconsequential fools! Your Compaq Presarios and electronic mails stand no chance against my superior tweeting abilities and MacBook Airs of death” — then think again. You may be surprised by the familiarities you’ll find in You’ve Got Mail. Of course, there are plenty of things that are woefully outdated. Let’s take a look.

Hanks, “Joe Fox,” an exec at Barnes & Noble that isn’t Barnes & Noble meets Ryan, indie-bookstore owner “Kathleen Kelly,” in an “Over 30” chatroom where they both claimed they’d never been before. If chatrooms still exist, it’s still probably wise to feign innocence. Plus — don’t lie — how many times have you been on an online date and said, “I hardly ever do this.”

What You’ve Got Mail does remind us is that in 1998, we loved email. We looked forward to email. Says Ryan, “I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”

“You’ve got mail” is no longer exciting — it’s a given. And most of the time, it’s supremely annoying requests from your mother (who still doesn’t understand how to turn off caps lock) or Groupon newsletters.

Yet, interestingly, Hanks’ inbox still probably reminds you of your own: “Learn Latin While You Sleep!” (Actually, that sounds kind of interesting.) “Earn Fast Cash!”

OK. So, one major difference between our world now and You’ve Got Mail’s is that no one is really a stranger on the internet. It’d be pretty hard to keep up a correspondence without figuring out some things via Google or Facebook. And writing letters for so long without revealing personal details? Seems like a pretty challenging task.

But still — You’ve Got Mail raises questions and sentiments you’ll still feel today. Is being intimate with someone online cheating? And why would I give online dating another shot when no one writes me back?

As Ryan and Hanks agree to no personal details, their email exchanges are largely philosophical and ponderous writings. The beauty of New York in the fall. The flour dust that hangs in the air near the bagel place. How hats are never a good choice. Blah blah blah.

Flirtatious email threads are one thing, but nowadays, it feels unlikely that two folks would have as much patience to read each others’ daily essays. What might be more likely: They’d air their narcissistic thinkings on Tumblr and then have more personal discussions via email.

Of course, the inevitable happens: Hanks discovers that his longtime penpal, “Shopgirl,” is in fact Kathleen Kelly. Realizing that she’s in love with his online persona — NY152 — he begins a process involving some tricky deception. Becoming her IRL friend, Hanks prods Kathleen/Meg to find out more about this NY152 fellow. Is he married? Is he fat? Meanwhile, Hanks is on the other end of the dial-up, balancing the development of NY152 and his real-time relationship.

And here we have Catfishing in its nascent form.

What is perhaps the most jarring is Kathleen Kelly’s apartment. Relief that the shabby-chic thing is over — because c’mon, it’s like Laura Ashley threw up in there and then whitewashed everything — but slightly depressing: We’re all still using that Ikea EXPEDIT bookcase.

The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.

The final, kind of surprising takeaway is that we’re just as emotionally tied to our online relationships and identities as we were in 1998. It’s still easy enough to feel you know someone when you don’t; and even more exciting when you realize you actually know them in a way you never would had you not had the internet to guide you.

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