Somewhere in my basement storage area, I have several file folders stuffed with personal letters from back in the day, the product of an inveterate saver and collector. If memory serves me well, very few of these letters contain news or sentiments of extraordinary significance, especially when weighed against events of a lifetime. Nevertheless, they harken back to when writing and receiving letters via the mail was a welcomed part of our everyday lives.
My most intense phase of letter writing ran from college through law school, covering my late teens through early twenties. It makes sense. We often take our daily lives rather seriously during those years, and the diaspora of friends and family via assorted personal milestones creates the need to keep in touch as we move around.
In the days before e-mail, Facebook, and cheap long-distance calls, letter writing was the way we did it. I recall exchanging veritable tomes at times. And while today I might be a tad embarrassed over some of the missives I wrote and mailed, sending and receiving letters was very meaningful to me.
Today, of course, technology has largely supplanted old fashioned letter writing. I sometimes wonder what records of our everyday exchanges will be available to anthropologists of the future as they search for clues of how we shared ideas, information, thoughts, and feelings from a distance. Will our digital footprints disappear with us? And even if they are available, how will someone sort through the mounds of empty chatter to get to the real stuff?
Though sentiment creeps in when I write about writing letters, I have no illusions that we will see a revival of this form of communication anytime soon. It’s too bad, though. Anticipating a personal letter from a dear friend or family member sure beats turning on the computer, awaiting the pile up in my inbox.