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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Letter Writing

This is a topic that I know I have harped on in previous entries, but it is something that keeps coming back to me in a variety of forms. Technology has considerable sway over the manner in which we accomplish tasks that previously took months and sometimes even years to achieve. 200 years ago getting a letter in the mail was pretty much the fastest way to get word to someone in a hurry. The invention of the telephone made it possible to get in touch with someone almost instantly if they were around their phone. The telegraph was a way to send a message to someone who did not have a telephone, and even in its heyday that took hours depending on how fast the message was delivered or how long it took the receiver to wonder into a Western Union office. In the 1980s the telegraph was all but dead once telephone infrastructure caught up and everyone had phones in their houses. However, the mail was still the most efficient way to send a message that couldn’t be expressed over the phone. That was until the 1990s when email started to rock mail’s foundation, and nowadays with smart phones and mobile Internet information, emails, phone calls exist in the palm of your hand. It is no shock that the US Postal service is bankrupt when anyone in the world with a signal can send a message to anyone else who has a signal at the touch of a button.
Being born in 1988 I still remember life without email and instant access to information. I remember learning how to write letters, how the postal system worked, and what a phone with a cord looks like. However, as I grew up and those systems of communication began to be replaced by faster and more efficient methods like email I think I lost the significance that a sentimental letter has on a person simply because I never received a ton of letters. I still got birthday cards, the occasional thank you card, and other things of that nature throughout my childhood, but the long handwritten letter was lost on me. Mail wasn’t the only form of written communication. Computers made people type faster, email hastened the need for quick response thus eliminating many of the formalities associated with writing a good letter. Going to elementary school in the 1990s I distinctly remember computer classes and the emphasis on learning how to type. Spell check, the clarity of typed documents, and later grammar check caused me to pay little mind to how neat my hand writing was or how to spell something correctly. I figured if technology can do it for me why is it important for me to learn how to do these skills that are primarily associated with outdated technology? Granted this is a contemporary realization, and not something I was thinking about when I was 8, but I think it holds true. My handwriting leaves something to be desired, and when I write something by hand I do it in print not in cursive. I still constantly misspell words because I know that spell check will get them. I guess my point in saying all this is that getting a long, heartfelt hand written letter is never something I received growing up. For me, getting a long email from friends of family is what gets me excited because I can respond quickly, and don’t have to wait weeks for a reply. Times changed, and while I lament my inability to hold a letter in my hand and carry it around it is not something I was ever used to growing up, so I am void the regret that letters haven’t found themselves a firm place in our modern society.
The reason for this outpour on writing letters is because I sent some today. It cost me 56,000 Guarani’s to send them to America that’s about $12 and the worst part is that it is 1,000 Guarani’s more than I spend on my monthly Internet plan. 56,000 Gs. Is a lot of money for me down here, and while I am totally on board with the concept of sending and receiving letters in that moment when I was forking over the cash I came to the realization that I am participating a dying concept. Now both Paraguay and the United States will have a mail system for a while. Institutions such as those don’t die so easily, but when it costs me as much as it did to mail said letter when I could have sent an email to literally everyone I know dozens of times it makes one stop and think is it worth it?. Personally, I figured that writing letters would be a significant method of communication for me. There is something about romanticized idea of joining the Peace Corps, and writing letters back home while waiting for months for a response that attracted me. In reality that is not how it works. Every country has Internet, and there are probably only a hand full of places left where it is easier for one to sent a letter than an email. I think people have an innate desire to maintain consistent contact with loved ones, and when I can call America for $0.01 a minute or send an email whenever I want it makes it tough to justify spending $2.50 each time I want to send a letter. I guess I should have made that realization earlier than 6 months into my time here, but it wasn’t until I handed the lady at the post office that money that it hit me.
The thing I struggle with is do I care? Do I personally need to receive a hand written letter when I have the ability to maintain constant contact with someone? Is an email good enough? As to that I do not know. I only received one letter of significant length since I have been here, and it was typed. I have received some notes and post card from a few people as well, but several of those were given to me before I left or arrived shortly after I landed in Paraguay. I do carry those messages with me wherever I go, and I tend to look those letters and notes when I am down. So, I guess what I am saying is that I do have an emotional pull to them, but I have not had enough of those letters in my life to feel the full range of emotions that previous generations had. I think in today’s society that because of rigorous demands and time commitments of the work place make some who takes the time to write a long email in many ways the modern equivalent to someone who wrote a the hand written letter 50 years ago. It is slowly becoming lost are, and while I will do my best in the future to continue to write letters, and encourage my peers to do the same I am not sure if I can consciously justify writing a letter over an email in any context other than I have a lot of spare time and a lot of spare money.

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