Saturday, January 16, 2010

What We Have Lost With the Email Age

I am a product of two worlds, letters and email. I was born in the age when it was still all about sitting down with a piece of paper in front of you and writing a letter to someone if you wanted to have them know what you were doing with your life.

That is right boys and girls. Pen and paper and time. Or pen and typewriter if that was easier. I am not that old, despite what some would say, but when I was growing up you didn’t pick up the telephone whenever you wanted to tell someone something, especially if it was long distance. You didn’t have email or Facebook or Twitter or a computer with a printer or blogs or any of that stuff. You didn’t have a cell phone that you could shoot someone a text message. Oh man, you should have seen HHBL’s first car phone. The thing weighed 10 pounds and was hard wired into the car. There was no taking it any place else let me tell you.

But for all the wonderfulness that is email and blogs and cell phones. For all the instant communication and gratification that these things bring we are losing something precious. We are losing the heritage of letters, letter writing and the ability to sit down and compose your thoughts in such a way as to convey to someone far away what is going on in your life. Perhaps that is why I like blogging so much, because it seems like I am sitting down and writing all of you a letter…..although you are WOEFULLY deficient in writing back.

I have known this for quite a while because, you see, I come from a family of letter writers. And not only letter writers but savers of letters. What a heritage this is let me tell you. Boxes and boxes of letters. Letters from family, from friends, from acquaintances. Letters that document the daily life, what was going on, who was visiting, what people were thinking and feeling and doing. Letters from home and abroad. Letters from couples who were courting, families who were separated by travel.

I have a box that contains all the letters that I have ever received from family members and friends. All the letters that my mom wrote to me when I was in college, notes from the boyfriends of my Auntie Jane (why they were writing a 7 year old girl letters I do not know), letters from friends overseas, letters from grandparents.  My Grandpa Pringle wrote me letters filled with what he was doing with his day, what was growing in the garden. He sent me seeds and gum. The seeds are often still to be found inside the letter. I chewed the gum.

I have a box filled with the letters that Grandpa and Grandma Pringle wrote to each other during their seven year courtship. SEVEN YEARS folks. Years where they were not always in the same town or area. My grandfather was one to write letters let me tell you. He wrote a letter to his mother EVERY DAY from the time that he left home to go to college to the day that she died at the age of 98. Amazing.

And now we are going through the letters that my Grandmother Amsler has kept. Boxes and boxes of letters from her mother, from her sisters one of whom was a missionary in Siam (before it was Thailand), letters from family, letters from Grandpa. Grandmother can no longer read these letters. Her eyesight in recent years has degenerated to the point that she cannot recognize you unless you are 6 inches from her. But others have been reading the letters to her and now we are reading them to each other. My mother will be reading along silently and then I will hear, “Oh! I remember her talking about this.” Or, “Huh, I haven’t thought about this in years.”

These letters don’t just bring back memories through their words, they bring back memories just through the handwriting. Some are typewritten, Great-grandmother Mortenson’s for instance. But most are written “long hand” and a person’s handwriting is as distinctive as their voice. Seeing my Grandmother Amsler’s handwriting is like having her there with me.

There will be little if any reviewing of family history in future generations because our communication is electronic not paper. When was the last time that you printed out an email from a child or parent so that you could keep it and review it and think about it? Do you print it and put it in a folder or a box? No, you read it, maybe put it in a specific email folder or more likely you hit the “delete” button and go on with your day never thinking that in years to come you might want to re-read what was happening then.

Don’t get me wrong, I love email and Facebook and Twitter. I “talk” to people all the time that I never would have met in the age of letters. But I still grieve for the family history and the history in general that is being lost because we are in the age of “must have it now” rather than the age that has the time and the writing skills to produce letters. Kids whose whole txt conversations are acronyms are not going to be able to produce well thought out letters.

I could tell you that now you need to go and write letters to restart the age of letter writing and communications…….but I think that ship has passed.

And I am sad.


  1. My hubby had a shoebox full of letters his mother wrote to her mother. Included were a handful of letters he and his siblings wrote as children to their grandmother. One year I typed them all into a book, had it spiral bound and gave a copy to all the family members. It was lovely, really! A wonderful gift for them.

  2. I can't even wrap my mind around those letters! How wonderful.

    I get totally thrilled when I receive mail, it rarely happens.

  3. Mom's old boyfriends wrote you? Seriously? I don't even know where to begin.

  4. @Mandyisdandy- I know, it is disturbing. Just shows my animal magnatism even at the age of 7. And yes, I know I spelled that word wrong. I am just too lazy to look it up at the moment.

  5. Wow, that's a lot of letters. I mourn the letter-writing era an English teacher, and as frequent letter writer (well, in the past, that is).

    Tamara @ Watching the Grass Grow


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