It's all about communication, folks!
Recently one of my English classes was discussing the addictive qualities of the Internet. Some students cited social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace) as the place where they spend most of their time online. I asked them if they were addicted to the Internet per se or if they were addicted to the limitless methods of communication that the web provides. This got us all to thinking...
I'll be the first to admit that I have been addicted to communication since my teens. In junior high, I used to charge fountain pens and stationery to my mother's account at Pearson's Drug Store just to feed my addiction. In those days I wrote letters to friends I met on vacation in Minnesota, to people who had moved from Iowa City to Arkansas, to my penpal in Devon, England, and to a boyfriend who lived 500 miles away. It was such a thrill every day to see what the postman had brought, and such a downer when there was a Federal holiday and mail wasn't delivered.
My father is the world master grand champion at this sport. I have collected hundreds of letters and postcards from him over the years. When I was a child he'd send me postcards from Austria with pictures of Mecki the Hedgehog and the Lindwurm in Klagenfurt. Then when I traveled abroad or was at graduate school, he wrote me a letter every.single.day. Even when I was married, I received a postcard or some other communication from him every day. Now 5000 miles away in Austria I still get at least 2 cards, 3-4 emails and we talk once a week.
The internet has certainly simplified the process of communication. How easy it is to keep in touch with people, to chat with them pixel for pixel in real time, or to find them after 25 years of "I wonder whatever happened to..." And yet, I find that people are much less communicative than they used to be. It's easy to think "I have so-and-so's email address, I can email him whenever I want..." or "She's my friend on Facebook, so obviously I'm thinking about her." But is it really enough? Yes, it was a pain to find a piece of paper that wasn't stained with coffee or chewed by the cat, to find a pen that actually worked, to find where that damned address book was (behind the fishtank among the dustbunnies), to find a stamp -- and not just any stamp, but one that somehow complemented the stationery you'd written on or the theme of the letter you were sending. But it was worth the hassle to present your words on a piece of paper you'd touched that could be savored by the recipient and placed into a metal "love letters" box or a basket on the credenza for future enjoyment.
My favorite communication of all time came from an old boyfriend when I was living in Missouri. He wrote 8-10 pages of heart-felt prose over several days, and compiled a CD of music he was listening to when he wrote it. I read the letter while listening to the CD and felt immediately re-connected.
Communication: It's all about connection and shared experiences. I don't need fancy gifts or flowers or chocolate, I need to know that someone very far away is thinking of me as fondly as I think of them. It doesn't have to be with pen and paper, a simple email will do. And although I try, I know I don't write my peeps as often as I should or would like to. I'll try to do better. In the meantime, here's what Pliny the Younger had to say about personal communication:
Dear Fabius Justus,
You haven't sent me any letters for ages. You say, "There's nothing to write about." Then simply write that there's nothing to write about, or write only what people used to begin their letters with: "If you are well, I am well." This is enough for me, in fact it is the best I can hope for. Do you think I'm joking? I'm begging you in all seriousness. Let me know how you are, because otherwise I can't go on not knowing without the greatest amount of concern. Farewell.
Now, don't you have someone in your address book who needs to hear from you by email, postcard, or letter? Do it. Now! (and leave a comment while you're at it!)