My friend Pru, after recently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, brought up some really thought-provoking things about the communication age as we know it.
I grew up during the 1970's and 1980's, a time when it was popular to have penpals from overseas that you could share your cultural differences with in order to broaden your perspective. My husband, who also grew up during this time fondly recalls one of his penpals and the gifts they exchanged with each other bridging the differences between them. While my husband and I were dating we spent a couple of years living far apart and talking for hours on end on the telephone long-distance at that time was a financial no-no. We had limited chats here and there and visits, but some of our most memorable conversations were done through letters. Remember those? No, silly, not emails. These were letters. They arrived in your post box, stamped and addressed. If you were friends with an artist, envelopes often arrived decorated in knotwork or strange creatures playing guitars.
During the time that he lived in Pittsburgh and I was finishing high school, I remember rushing home nearly every day to check the mailbox for some kind of letter or token from him. Though he'd probably blush profusely and deny it today, he occasionally wrote me poetry and romantic short stories. Unfortunately, we moved around quite a bit after we were together and there is very little left from this time. I think in all my vast collection there are only three or four of his letters left in a box on the top shelf of my closet. It made me sad when I realized this because our relationship was very intense and beautiful in those early years, the kind of legendary love you want your grandchildren to discover inside a box of old letters found in a dusty corner of the attic.
One of the things Pru mentioned was how even though we write to each other on forums, in blogs and via email these days, the data is all too often quickly swiped from memory. Sure, some print out emails and tuck them away, but the novelty of doing that wore off for me right around the time I upgraded to my very own dial-up service and stopped dialing in from a shared account with my parents. Here we are in the world communicating with people all day long, all across the world, but how will all of it be archived or remembered? Say some strange catastrophe were to come along and wipe out the internet and all of its memories. Cherished conversations on favorite forums would wither away like dust in our own memories. Loving emails exchanged between those held apart by circumstances, all gone just like that.
It pains me somewhat to think that letter writing has become something of a lost art. Why sit down with ink and paper when you can drop down at the keyboard and tap away to your heart's content? Pru talked about the legacy left behind in the great letters of the world. Think of all we know about history and how much of it was confirmed or disproved by evidence found in written exchanged between people from that time. Letters from great presidents and kings left behind a piece of memory we can refer to. As we move away from written books and newspapers to rely on eFiles and eBooks, what happens to those tomes when the last batteries die?
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for change and evolution. I think it's a wonderful thing that some of my closest and most intimate friends are people I've never met face to face, but have opened up to thanks to the great Communication Age. There is just a sense of sadness that pervades when I think of how all of this communication seems to push us further apart as a whole today, rather than bringing us closer together.
Color me nostalgic for simpler times today.
Now, enjoy the letters Thomas Jefferson and John Adams once shared: