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.
I still send cards with hand-written notes within. The problem nowadays is that, even when some of us would love to keep up the tradition, anything I might write by hand will be old news by the time it arrives, having inevitably been covered by digital or electronic means.
Speed & immediacy are hard to compete with, yes? I’ve fallen prey myself, and my handwriting, once quite presentable, has deteriorated into chicken scratch.
Just think of the new generation who will never receive perfumed paper, where dried flowers drop out and get signatures made with lipstick borrowed from young girl’s mothers…progress is not always good.
Yes, e-mail emoticons aren’t quite the same!
Dave – I remember going to the mailbox wall in the dorm every day, hoping that there was a letter from home (or my boyfriend) waiting for me and getting excited when I saw that something was actually behind the glass! The letters were even more important in Cambridge – bless their hearts – my parents were so faithful in writing me. I am sure they are all in a box somewhere in the house and I know that the “love letters” are tied with a ribbon, tucked away in my hope chest, along with other memories and treasures – relics of the past……
Sent from my iPad
Anne, yes, letters during college, especially our semester abroad, were such a welcomed thing! The instant access to e-mail, text messaging, etc., changes the whole dynamic of distance, especially at that age. Not better or worse, perhaps, just different. Being a private “foreign correspondent” to family & friends has soooo changed.