For hundreds of years, communication across distance relied on a single technology: the letter. You cared; you thought; you wrote; you waited for your reciprocation. And waited. And waited. Time, as much as space, defined the letter as a communications platform. The hand-scrawled message demanded deliberation and, on the other side of it, patience.
In the digital age, of course, analog letter-writing -- as art or craft or conversation or whatever else -- has become quaint, which is to say nostalgia-driven and ridiculously inefficient. Why would I write a letter when I can send an email? But more importantly, at the moment: Why would I write an email when I can send a tweet, or a Facebook message, or (to be fair) a Google+ note? Though we're nowhere near the end of email, what we are approaching is the possibility that email as we know it today -- solid, stolid, removed from our other online interactions -- will be increasingly integrated into the social platforms we use to learn and share information.
The latest harbinger of that transition is Fluent, a new service that integrates with Gmail (and eventually, its creators say, with other email platforms) to deliver messages in the flowing fashion of a social media feed. The service, built by a team of former Google developers -- the guys responsible for Wave, but don't hold that against them -- converts Gmail's grids into a message-sharing service that's more dynamic and fluid than any kind of letter-writing has been before, giving way to an inbox that's not a box at all so much as a Twitter-like feed of information.