I have over four hundred friends on Facebook. Sometimes I wonder how many of them I actually talk to, how many I actually hang out with, or whether or not it matters if I do either of those things. Virtual communication and social media undoubtedly have many advantages, the most important of which being the immediacy of getting in touch with someone, like with text messaging. Social media, e-mail, text messaging, these are all synonymous with instant communication, or better yet, the instant gratification of immediately establishing contact with someone. But I wonder, how much of the human experience gets lost in virtual communication?
I cannot say that social media is destroying the bonds of friendship and really mean it. People are more connected than ever—finding long lost family, or friends from elementary school you thought you would never see again. But there is a difference between a Facebook friend and an actual friend. You know, a friend—someone you trust. Someone you actually talk to and know.
The interpersonal touch is obviously missing. You can’t shake hands with someone online. While social media offers many means of communicating, the intimacy of talking to a single person at one time is lost. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts share information with everyone all at once. It’s all public. Even posts on friends’ pages are visible to anyone with access. People may be connected in a more vast and efficient way, but the intimacy, by which I mean the attentiveness, focus and honesty that goes hand in hand with one on one conversation, is all but lost in such a fast and efficient method of communication.
The epistolary form—letter writing—is a far more personal way of communicating with a good friend. People express themselves differently in written form than they do verbally or in a brief post on Facebook. Writing letters to friends opens up a whole world of expression that is otherwise buried by the concise methods of expression in virtual communication.
I write letters to some of my friends, mostly to those who live in other countries or on the Pacific side of the United States. These are friends I no longer get to see or talk to on any kind of regular basis. Writing letters to them enables me to tell them everything I want them to know—the kind of things one confides in good friends—in a space I choose to dedicate to them. And only them.
Sitting down to write a letter can be an arduous task sometimes. One of the reasons I use letter writing to communicate with my far away friends is because I can’t tell them directly what’s going on in my life on Facebook without telling everyone, or sending a long winded email. A letter carries with it the connotation of being long correspondence and of being personal. Still, the actual act of writing a letter requires a similar effort to writing a paper in that it requires a particular kind of uninterrupted focus, not to mention time. When I write to a good friend I have to focus only on that friend and what I would say if we were alone on a porch or by a fire drinking a bottle of wine. Letter writing requires honesty, focus and time, three things that are hard to come by in a world that insists on instant communication. But once the habit is established, writing letters to friends becomes a consistent way to speak truth to those who are too far away for a few beers and an afternoon chat on the porch or the stoop.
When you put your words on paper, you are creating a record. A record of a thought process, of an idea, or of a moment. And when you take the time to attach your words to a page and send them to the intended audience, you will have said everything you wanted to say, but couldn’t because other people were around. That friend now has a record of a moment in time in your life that he or she can read over and over again, if only to hear your voice.
Whenever I know I am to receive a letter, I wait anxiously for the mailman to come. I rush to the mailbox after he leaves and sift though it as if I’m searching for something of more value than a hidden treasure. For that reason, the mailman has always been one of my favorite people. I love expecting something other than bills to come for me. And the mailman is always the guy who gives me the good news.
There is something to be said for the anticipation of receiving snail-mail correspondence. The world of social media has undoubtedly spoiled us. Now, instant gratification is an every day thing when it comes to communicating. Waiting for a letter takes too much time in a world obsessed with efficiency and speed. But with efficiency and speed running the world of communication, how much substantial conversation can really be had? Already the deterioration of the English language is underway. Text messaging alone has been the biggest culprit… cuz like i luv like talking to u w/o actually speaking, u kno? Because of our abbreviated methods of communication, no one really seems to be talking or writing at length anymore. No one has the time because we’re all too busy trying to keep up with the pace of this virtual world.
But, how great a feeling is it to get a birthday card in the mail—the thought that someone actually took two seconds out of their day to think of you (and maybe help you out with a check or some cash)! They actually bought a stamp for you! How awesome is that? I mean—who buys stamps anymore?
But what would happen if we couldn’t buy stamps anymore? Or get birthday cards in the mail? What would happen if the Post Office died? Well, the answer is the same as it always is when a government service is diminished or disappears: the private sector takes over that entire market. UPS, Fedex, and DHL would be in charge of making sure your correspondence or package would be taken care of logistically! But at what cost? Soon you would be spending dollars instead of cents to RSVP to a wedding or mail a college application or send a ‘thank you’ note.
The Post Office is our last hope for paying a reasonable price for anything! While we’re paying four dollars per gallon for gas, you’re still paying less than fifty cents to mail a letter, less than a dollar to mail a letter anywhere else in the world. It’s easy to take advantage of a service like the Post Office because it has been around for as long as the United States has been a country.
The Post Office has this illusory aura about it, that it will always be around because it’s an American institution. But like most illusory things, this is untrue. Because communication has now exceeded speeds that the Post Office can maintain, its potential disappearance is now a real threat, as evidenced by the hundreds of Post Offices that have recently closed, and the thousands of postal workers who were consequently laid off.
We will lose more than jobs if the Post Office goes out of business. Listen to me… If you don’t write to your friends, then the most inexpensive service known to American society will die. And with it will die your last chance to really correspond with someone in the last intimate form of quality non-verbal communication.
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