Like the rest of the 250 million people in the world, I have a Facebook. I use it fairly often, wiling away the hours spent checking statuses, friend’s photos, writing messages and other such mindless activities. Whilst the purpose of this post isn’t to debate about the downfalls of social networking, I reflected recently on how communications have really changed just in the last two decades of my life.
On my first day of school in windy Wellington, New Zealand I made my very first best friend, Angela. We developed a great friendship throughout primary school; the kind of young, innocent, happy-go-lucky, world-is-your-oyster kind of frienship. I have fond memories of sleepovers and midnight snacks, playing dress ups, listening to U2, and running away from magpies. Needless to say I was devasted when, at 11, my parents announced we were moving to Australia. I remember thinking the world was coming to an end because my best friend and I would be separated forever.
We kept in contact by writing letters. We shared, via pen, paper and stamp, all our high school ups and downs; new friends, failed subjects, first kisses, broken hearts and sibling rivalry. We swapped photos, movie tickets, concert tickets, dried flowers and birthday presents. We even wrote on recycled paper to be environmentally conscious. Sometimes after having already sent my letter and while waiting for her reply, I would begin writing a new letter straight away because there was news to be told that could not wait. The trans Tasman letter writing continued for a solid five years, at least once a week.
The advent of email then meant we could write faster, so we ceased writing letters and instead communicated behind cold, emotionless Arial font type. As we grew up, we got busy, got married, she started a family. Then Facebook appeared and there was no need to communicate at all, all I had to do was check her profile.
That’s when I realised the nostalgia of our communication had gone.
And I believe its now gone for an entire generation. Its frightening to think that my children won’t get to experience what I had with writing letters. Actually its frightening to think that they probably won’t know how to write a letter using paper and pen at all.
Today the majority of us receive digital communication. Why handwrite when you can type. Why develop film when you can view on a screen. Why send a postcard when you can send a picture MMS. This is not to say digital communications is ruining our lives. Far from it, and I can wax lyrical also about the advantages and advancements in communucations that modern technology has provided us (the irony being that my entire career is based on digital communications!). I am merely just mourning the loss of the art of letter writing.
Think about the last time you received a love letter. How great was it to think that someone took the time and thought to write their heartfelt sentiments for your eyes only. How did it make you feel to think that person also touched that piece paper, to see their handwriting on the page, knowing that every word was written with consideration and purpose. I bet you kept that letter. I bet you’ve kept more than a few love letters in the past. Compare this to an email or text message of similar sentiment. It is all too easy to delete these emails and texts and much harder to discard a handwritten letter.
I’ve kept every single one of Angela’s letters- movie tickets, dried flowers and all. Every now and then I like to go through and pick one or two to read, and it always make me smile. Emails may be great at getting news out quickly, but for me, could never be a substitute for a simple, thought-out handwritten letter.