Technostalgia

What Ever Became of…Email Without Computers?

In the heady days of the dot com boom, there were a few companies that actually had physical products for sale. One idea to exploit a very specific niche was to sell small internet devices that were made to do email and nothing else. Since the idea of using PCs for more than playing Sim City and typing book reports was still relatively new, there were some who had an aversion to opening that free AOL CD and attempting to ‘get online.’ 

If you wanted to be able to keep dear old grandma in the loop, without overwhelming her with the seedier sides of the internet, you could invest in one of several handy email machines. Either push the big ‘Get Email’ button, or keep it hooked up to your phone line and let it automatically update! image

Back around the turn of the century, some friends and I took a few trips down to South Texas fishing, and we would stay with one fellow’s great uncle. He would heckle my buddy’s dad about spending time fiddling with his computer, which he seemed to regard as quite the flighty pursuit.

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The great uncle, being retired down in South Texas, spent a fair part of the day sitting around drinking and watching TV. He had a giant set of big wireless headphones so he could hear without blowing out the TV’s speakers.

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Those targeted infomercials must really work, because one day he proudly unveiled his newest prized position, an emailer. It quite likely was a MailStation similar to the ones pictured, but whatever type it was, he was positively giddy over it. He would unplug the phone and plug it to the machine, then have you watch as he would show you the latest ‘Hey, you have email now!’ note he had just received.

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Despite the disappearance of MailStation and Earthlink, it seems that the Landel Telecom MailBug is still around. There are also a few different services that will print email through a printer or a fax machine, but have no send capabilities. Additionally, there is the Peek wireless device, although it has moved away from the limited functionality of only email.

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Since phones have become small computers, and iPads can wipe you after a poop do everything, is there any place for a techno-phobe niche device that only sends and receives email? The ‘Easiest Way to E-mail’ was portable, simple, convient, comforable, and Smart!–so what ever happened to email without computers?

Image sources, in order of appearance: landel.com, thepcmuseum.net, allthereviews.compcliquidations.com, the-gadgeteer.net, landel.com again, mycoupons.com, and clearaudiovideo.com.

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3 comments to What Ever Became of…Email Without Computers?

  • fodder650

    As an owner of two Peek's I thought I'd give you an update. The devices are no longer supported. Peek has moved to become a software provider of feature phones in India instead of pushing the little Peek. Which is a shame because it was a good idea.Sadly the device itself was the issue. Even back in 2008 it only had 8MB of RAM which was a bit of a joke. It could do a bit of graphics for weather maps and JPEG's but again with the limited memory it was rough.

    At one of my jobs I didn't have internet access so it was nice to have the Peek for email and everything else you could do through it. Texting and such. It was a cheaper then a smart phone but not as much as it should have been. You paid $15 a month for unlimited email access. Which it got from TMobile. So coverage was spotty but it worked.

    <img src="http://www.wired.com/images/productreviews/2008/09/peek_email_device_f.jpg&quot; />
    It really was close to being the right toy for it''s time but was let down by the company going so cheap on the hardware.

  • OA5599

    When these were hot sellers, a desktop computer was a thousand bucks with a CRT monitor, and a little more than that with a laptop. Most people connected to the internet via 56K dialup, at $15+ per month for service unless you went with restrictions that came with Juno/bluelight/whatever. The mail-only devices typically ran between $100 and $200, often had limited display capabilities, and required service for about $10 per month.

    Now you can get a netbook for under $200 with a decent screen, sign up for a free email account with Gmail, Yahoo, etc., and if you live close enough to a place with free wifi, piggyback their signal for free. There's really not enough technophobes left in the world to keep the market alive for mail-only units.

  • B72

    Blackberry is still hawking emailers, but now they have phones built in too.

    /end snark.

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