Saturday, October 1, 2016

I've been thinking a lot about letter writing. (Now that email is over, will letter-writing come back?) I found this post from April 2015 by someone named Ingrid celebrating children's books about letter-writing through a search for Books of Wonder. (I took Wally to that lovely children's bookstore yesterday to pick out his September Book-of-the-Month, an annual holiday gift from my parents. I was worried because the store felt kind of big and empty and the cafe that once flourished there was gone, now a storage space.) 

It's weird to me to think how my college friends and I wrote copious letters to each other, even though we all had email. I have a box full of our letters, which tapered off around 1999/2000.  

Emails, as Sarah of One Blue Sail wrote in one of the comments, felt like a replacement for letters, faster, of course, but the same idea, a long, thoughtful means of communicating with one other person. 

Then our Inboxes exploded, with marketing, spam, charities, campaigns, mass emails. Too much. 

It makes sense, given the Inbox overload, that we're searching for something else. The current mode - text/snapchat/FB - the bite-size, constant interruptions (though young people don't consider them interruptions, MIT professor Sherry Turkle points out in Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, October 2015) - doesn't seem like a replacement for letter writing, phone calls or email. 

What is the replacement for sustained, one-to-one communication? 

Even now, I'm batting my kids away so I can write. There is always this struggle. I may be the worst offender for the bite-size, broken up days. 

The Jolly Postman was one of my all-time favorites. 



9 comments:

  1. I remember those college letters, during summers and breaks and when friends studied abroad...I can remember the airmail stamps and even lines from some of the letters...

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  2. Thank you for the mention, Rachel! I will never stop missing letter-writing and its very particular intimacy. I'm remembering how some friends would color or decorate the envelopes. I had an Irish friend who would write S.A.G. for "St. Anthony's Guide," so that her letters wouldn't be lost in the mail. So true that our inboxes exploded and junk mail obliterated the long form emails. I love that you mention batting the kids away in order to write this--I'm doing the same (and should be making dinner). But as I'm writing this, it occurs to me that reading and responding to each other's posts is the closest experience to letter writing. And I am so glad for it.

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  3. I know Bearette, certain lines from some of those letters are indelibly printed...do you remember when it was that the letters completely dropped off?

    Sarah - yes - it's very particular intimacy. I forgot about the decorations to some letters, and the friends with lovely hand-writing (never me). Long-form emails is a perfect way to describe. Lately I'm fascinated b/c it really seems that almost all email (long-form and even just logistics) have dropped off precipitously. I can't believe how right you are - and how perfect that is to describe it that way - the closest experience to letter writing. Yes! Here is what I'm thinking/feeling...do you know what that's like? Have you felt that? What are you thinking/feeling now...yes! Exactly...

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  4. I think it was '99 for me too. I remember writing letters from my first apartment in New York, but not after that. I remember a letter a college friend wrote about a crush, the summer after freshman year. "If only his eyes were not so blue..." :-)

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  5. When I lived in Europe in 95-97 my parents would fax me. My mom would write me a letter and then fax it. I still remember the one about my sister meeting my now brother-in-law. "His name is Mac and he has long blonde hair." That felt so futuristic. So instant.
    And I've noticed more and more hat email is over. If I email a friend under a certain age, I actually expect to not receive a response. But if I text? Instant reply. And I know they see my email just as quickly....it's just something about email that seems as though it doesn't require a response.

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  6. Bearette - where was yr 1st NY apartment? Mine was West 87th - no kitchen.

    Holly - Fax! Wow - I never heard of the personal fax. That is a riot. Totally true about younger friends. I discovered that with my cousins a few years back. Emails go into an abyss. Text - instant response. What's odd to me now is that even people our age have stopped email but I don't understand what has replaced it. There to me is no satisfying communication via text or social media.

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  7. Wow! Mine was on 169 West 23rd Street...over a dry cleaner...

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  8. I love that I'm reading this post while and in a different browser window I am emailing you. I miss letters. My grandmother told me that when you lick the stamp (stamps don't need to be licked anymore, huh?) and put it upside-down on the envelope, it means "I love you."

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  9. You were so close by Bearette! Amie - I know! And then you sending me your flash fiction about Not Carmine's - that was perfect. Very sweet about the stamps - you're right - I do have to say the self-sticking stamps are an improvement.

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