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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Handwritten Letters vs. Modern Technology

I received a hand written letter from my Grandmother (Nana) today. It got me thinking about letter writing becoming a lost art form in this world of e-mail and internet. Will we have lost the personal connection to people that have passed in 100 years?

I went to Ohio on a recent family visit. While home, my Grandmother shared with my sister and I, letters she recently received from her cousin. They were old letters written during WWI from her father to his sister. It was a wonderful new treasure for Nana to have in her possession, I could sense the connection she felt to her father who had long passed, not a small thing to a 89 year old woman. It was a beautiful experience for my sister and I, learning about our family history through the words of a man we never got to meet. We listened as she read the cursive handwriting on the yellow, aged paper. There were 3 or 4 letters dated between 1918-1919, and in them he told how his soon to be wife had visited him at the Army base before he departed to Europe. He shared his thoughts on not wanting to marry her until he was back home safe, in fear that he would be "boxed" coming home. While overseas, he wrote of only wanting one thing sent to him..."candy", we all got a good laugh out of this. When he went on to specify how he wanted the good chocolates, I began to really feel family ties. In learning where he was stationed, what he was doing daily, and getting little tidbits of what may seem trivial pieces of information, I was left yearning for more. Knowing these letters are little that remains from a family member long gone, I now feel a connection to my Great Grandfather, and a deeper connection to my Nana. There is great value in this.

It appears as we get older, we do want to know more about our family and where we came from, I know I do. There are few things as personal as someones handwriting, especially when it is them writing about their personal thoughts and experiences. A handwritten letter is a link to that persons humanity, to their soul. I don't think the sentiment or nostalgic effect would have felt the same if my Grandma had said "I have these old e-mails from your Great Grandfather".

Don't get me wrong, I love technology; with Skype, e-mail, texting and social media we have an instant connection to people that has never been possible and that certainly has worth. I know my sister was able to feel closer to her husband, who was in Iraq for a year, by using Skype. The visual connection gave instant relief to fears of him being okay. However, would their Great Grandchildren have enjoyed reading letters written between them during this time? Those Great Grandchildren would someday have the possibility to feel the deep connection to their past, and also have the knowledge of the history of their Great Grandparent's era. Now, only to be lost to messages on Facebook and Skype.

I have a treasure box full of letters and cards from family and friends, I will add the letter my Nana just sent to that box. I hope to live a long and healthy life, and in 40 years I will pull out that box and reminisce about the people in my life that I loved dearly. It definitely makes me contemplate what writings and sentiments I will contribute others in the future. Perhaps this is just my ego wanting to preserve my existence or a woman stuck in tradition and nostalgia. I know I am guilty of not hand writing letters, and I am pretty sure the people in younger generations do not either. Is letter writing becoming obsolete? If so, are we ready to face the lost sentiment and gap in our personal history in the years ahead? Perhaps I should make an effort to write more letters.