If you are holding this letter in your hands you are in a dwindling minority, I’m sorry to say. For thirty five years I’ve been carefully composing personal messages as a way to make connections, deepening those that have been made, and keeping the solid connections that have been years in the making.
Most folks read it electronically, now. The times they are a-changin’.
I’ve chosen not to try to keep up with all of those changes. I was a late-comer to the use of a computer – there was something about my old Royal typewriter that felt intimate; I learned home row and became quite proficient at it.
Of course I wouldn’t trade the amazing way the computer allows me to compose at the key board – watching words appear on the screen, telling me when I’ve misspelled a word or questioning syntax, and allowing me to trace the origin of words in seconds. You know.
And I wouldn’t give up email – the very thought of doing my work without it makes me realize how dependent I’ve become. I don’t text message or any of the other things I hear family and friends talk about, but I do appreciate the way emailing allows me to carry on dozens of conversations simultaneously.
There are some downsides, of course. I use the telephone regularly, to hear a voice on the other end, and to be heard in a way that creates a sense of caring, a sense of intimacy, if you will. Emailing doesn’t allow that.
Sometimes electronic communication is misused. Some people, for reasons I’m trying to understand, tend to hit the reply-to-all button when they are sending a message to just one of those on the list. It’s easy enough for me to hit the delete button, I know, but I get nervous – I can’t delete without worrying that there’s something in that reply-to-all message that I need to know. On a few occasions I’ve returned a message to a reply-to-all correspondent and asked them why they didn’t send their message to the one person, directly. But that makes me feel like I’m criticizing them, which I am, of course, with the hope of changing that bothersome habit. Then I pay by feeling uncomfortable.
In the early days of emailing we were saturated with spam – unwanted advertising; but some computer smart folks came up with ways to stop it, which reminded me of Robert Frost’s provocative poem, Mending Wall, which begins:
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” and concludes with the famous line from the neighbor who likes to quote one of his father’s old sayings: “Good fences make good neighbors.” Some wisdom is still passed from generation to generation!
Now we’re learning how to set appropriate boundaries on electronic message-sending. We still mail copies of Soundings, so you can continue to hold this letter in your hands, if you want to, or print it out at home if you choose. In any case, I’m glad we’re keeping in touch.
Take good care,