While clearing out some old files, I found a folder full of strange artifacts from the late 20th century: personal letters. Being just barely older than the Internet, my generation was the last to use this medium as a standard means of staying in touch. Even when I was in my 20s, long-distance phone rates were prohibitive and only serious computer geeks at major universities and government agencies had email. If you wanted to find out what a friend hundreds of miles away was up to, you picked up a pen and some paper and wrote to them.
I love modern technology and wouldn’t want to go long without it, but looking through my old correspondence made me realize just how little we’ve gained and how much we’ve lost in the move to “social media.”
- You can’t see my letters. Advertisers aren’t mining them to sell me stuff, they’re not enriching some tech bro I’ve never met, and the risk of them being “hacked” is near zero.
- Letters are slow. At best, two people can have one round-trip of correspondence in a week. There’s no pressure to reply immediately.
- Posting is not automatic. The medium encourages people to stick to the most interesting topics, instead of flooding everyone with updates on every meal.
- They aren’t in my inbox. Email is full of work. Letters sit apart from that.
- Writing letters can involve cool pens and paper. If you haven’t written by hand with high-quality tools, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Flush with nostalgia, I broke out the supplies and wrote a few letters. Considering how enthusiastically people received them, I plan to continue. If you send me a non-urgent personal email, don’t be surprised if the reply takes a few days to reach you.