Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Day 3 - Results - Email

I want to thank you those who have been posting comments on the blog...they help me to see a broader picture of the impact of technology...bringing to light what other people see as costs/benefits. Keep them coming! Karen, please tell your husband that I did cheat and go to Border's once...to see Ishmael Beah (See Day 2 - Results - Internet).

Email vs. Snail mail

Prior to this project, I would usually get up 1-2 hours early for the sole purpose of going though and responding to my email (three separate accounts). Once the option of emailing was removed, I still found myself waking up a little early...but during that time I would write one, maybe two handwritten letters. Here's what I found:

I was unable to keep in touch with as many people during the project compared to how many people I had kept in touch with on a weekly basis during pre-project times - this is a definite fact. However, I realize that a lot of what I considered to be "keeping in touch" was actually a line or two of an email. "Hey, how are you? Email when you get the time. lol, Christina"....that type of thing. Is that really "keeping in touch"? I mean, I've been on the receiving end of these one or two line emails, and, honestly, I don't feel like the relationship with the sender/receiver is being nurtured in anyway. In fact, often when I receive the one or two liners, which often include the loaded "how are you?" question, my initial response is sometimes stress...another item to add to the email "to do" list.

When I took the time to write letters during this project, it felt like I was creating a piece of art for the other person. I concentrated on my handwriting. I picked out and decorated the stationary. I spent time choosing my words, knowing the in some small way, this letter would become a piece of history. For example, as I collected the letters I had received throughout the month in a box, I realized that someday (perhaps long after I'm gone) my future children may find that box and spend an afternoon reading these works of art received from their mother's dearest friends. Would they get online and go through their mother's email account (given that the email provider still existed and the email login and password was passed down in the will or something)? Would they spend time going through all the various "Folders", "Trash", and "Sent" mail...after, of course, sorting through a ton of spam mail? Probably not. It makes me wonder about the history that is being lost in the absence of handwritten letters...letters on real paper which do not disappear with a quick hit of the "Delete" button.

Along this same line of thought - with the permanency of the handwritten letter, I found myself less quick to use harsh words and more generous for compassionate words. I did write one "dump" letter (venting to person about something that would have been more appropriately dealt with in a face-to-face conversation)..but just one. The feeling I got after the deed was done, knowing that a very good friend didn't quickly "delete" this dump letter or bury it in some "folder"...knowing that those harsh words were probably sitting right there on her desk or table...I didn't write that way again.

Permanent changes? I am only going to snail mail my friends. I will use email for work/research purposes. And I'm no longer going to use the excuse "I don't have time" in relation to writing letters or other activities (which you will read about in future posts). One of the biggest conclusions I've come to as a result of this project is that life is truly about choices. I spent 1-2 hours communicating in the morning pre-project; I will spend 1-2 hours communicating in the morning post-project...but HOW I choose to communicate in those two hours is completely up to me...and that, my friends, is SOOO liberating!

Tomorrow: Day 4 - Results - Television


Nancy said...

I never thought about handwritten letters and the connection it can provide to those we leave behind after death. You're right and I thank you for sharing such a personal realization.

My husband has a shoebox of letters written by his grandfather during his service in the military during WWII. Sometimes we just take out the box and pick letters at random to read. Their beauty is in their simplicity about his everyday life and in the doodles he drew in the margins of the yellowed paper.

Email doesn't have any of that.

Cherice said...

I have had a pen pal for over 30 years. We've never met face to face and have talked on the phone twice in all that time. We've snail mailed (I think we've emailed once or twice). When my dad died my step mom gave me a bunch of letters and cards that I'd sent him. After my grandmother died my mother brought a box of letters that my nana had saved, the oldest was post marked 1909. I've not kept all of my letters (sadly some have been lost), but I do have boxes of them that I treasure and often will reread and visit the "old days".

In reading about your project, I've decided to set a timer and note how long I spend on the computer. Depending upon the day it's about half an hour (unless I'm trying to find information, or balancing the checkbook). I don't use it for keeping in touch much. Email just doesn't have that personal touch.

Anonymous said...

from Deborah,

I have been musing over your comments all morning. It is sad that letter writing is not as popular as it used to be and while I save all my emails, I worry that they won't survive software updates the way boxes of old letters do.

On the other hand, email at it's best has an immediacy that can be very comforting to people who are separated by distance. Yes, they tend to be shorter than regular mail, but the rapid back and forth of emails can have the feel of real onversation.

It seems to me that there is a real place for email but you have encouraged me to try to add back a few regular letters also. Now where on earth are my envelopes and stamps?

Denise said...

Reading about this project has been thoroughly enjoyable! I'm finding it difficult to wait patiently for your next installments. I wonder if I'd be better at waiting if I wasn't so used to all the technology in my life that makes much of my daily experience feel fairly "instant". Did you notice a difference in your perception of waiting during your month of limited technology?

Anonymous said...

From Tomasina: I have been so busy with school, I havn't had to time post, but have kept up via my family, keeping up. Nancy who mentioned her husband shoe box of letters from WWII hit a REAL thread in my heart. I have from my father, his fathers actual post cards that his parents(my great grandparents0 in Idaho kept...These were RedCross postcards provided in Care Packages I think.Those post cards and the message (very simple) actually are so dear to me and I feel are a part of history, they will continue to be passed down. You can feel the War on the paper, the Era, they style of writing, penmenship , they type of paper, all the Camp Marks and Staleg( or similar word). Emails are wonderful I have received wonderful emails over the years, but handwritten notes have a flavor all their own and are reflective.

Heidi L. said...

Stumbled across your blog while looking up info on life in the 1950's. I was born in the early 60's; we were all avid letter writers even into my college days and after. I saved nearly all my letters; they're in shoeboxes and I'm in the process of going through them and storing them in rubbermaid containers. *WHAT A TREASURE!!!*. Letters from my G'ma, who passed away in 1979. Letters from my brother talking about his girlfriend, who later became his wife, and who tragically passed away from cancer. Letters from old boyfriends, my parents to me while I was at college, friends I'm still close with, friends that I haven't talked to in years.

Everytime I go through another box of letters, I think - as you stated - that current and future generations won't have this written history. And even IF someone kept emails, there is something powerful and emotional about someone's handwriting, especially after they've left us.

Wonderful project that you did! Thanks for all the details about it!