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On November 9th, 2012, I wrote about all the little things in life that I missed, partly due to advances into the digital age. Specifically, one of the major things I yearn for today is all the handwritten letters I used to receive via postal mail, and perhaps even more, the ability to write and send the replies via postal mail to my friends and loved ones.
In my younger years, long before the Internet and digital age, a handful of my closest friends used to send letters to one another that explained, in hand written words, where we were, what we were doing, and almost picture-perfect maps of where we hoped to be in the future. Hand written letters were like snapshots of where we were, where we were going, and who and where we hoped to be in the future. At the time, my friends and I took time to write our letters to one another, and each letter that arrived in the mail was a gift in and of itself; a message that took time, thought, creativity, and patience to create, and a message that went on its very own journey from the sender to the recipient.
One of my friends found his calling in life at a very early age. The day he turned 18, he decided to live a life as a vagabond and travel the world with as few possessions as possible. Before he left, he wrote down my parents mailing address in his travelogue, just in case I too decided to travel, he would always have a permanent place to mail correspondence. His travelogue soon became his most prized and valuable possession, and he vowed to have it published the day he decided to settle down. His name was Mike Rogers, and the last time I saw him was at Camp Chateaugay; it was the summer of 1996.
For many years, I would receive written letters in the mail from Mike, in which at the very beginning of every letter, he would explicitly state the date, time, and exact location from where he was writing the letter. Over the years, he would send me a letter approximately every few months, and with each subsequent letter to follow, he would be a little bit further from his home in Massachusetts. He would often write about his latest adventures, and poke fun at the various odd jobs he would take on for money to pay for food or travel, though most of the time, he would barter services in exchange for a place to stay instead of paying money for a hotel room or hostel, such as the time he spent several months working on an ocean freighter in order to reach Europe.
Then one day, the letters from my friend Mike inexplicably stopped. To this day, I haven’t heard from him, and sadly, I was never able to send a reply back simply because he never stayed in one place very long, let alone any place where he would be able to obtain a specific address.
From the time of my youth, and all the way through college, I kept a written correspondence regimen with my closest friends. Typically, I’d send about one letter every few weeks, sometimes I’d wait longer, as I often wanted to wait until there was news worthy of sharing in a written letter. I had an archive of written letters that I’d received over the years, sorted by date. In a strange, vicarious way, an archive of letters was reminiscent of a hand written journal through the eyes of a close friend.
When I attended college, in 1998, I was given an email address through the university. At the time, I was one of the very few people I knew who used email, so it got very little, if any use, other than simple updates back-and-fourth between me and my parents. The digital age replaced a lot of the things I had grown up with, and took for granted. I slowly watched the transition from hand written letters to email. A little bit at a time, my closest friends, with whom I’d spent years corresponding via written letters with, started seeking electronic forms of communication. At first, the emails were about the same length and content as their hand written counterparts, but as the years went by, the quality, clarity, and content began to fade, until ultimately the communications turned into short one or two paragraph notes.
Then, just like the letters from my traveling friend, Mike, the emails stopped coming through. When MySpace came along in 2003, all of my friends used the website for their personal communications, including their private email. Never being a social butterfly myself (I’m very introverted), or feeling comfortable posting the innocuous details of my daily life online, I was a late-adopter. For a short time, I enjoyed the almost constant communication with my long-time friends. Facebook then made its debut in early 2004, and my friends slowly began to transition there, and eventually deleting their MySpace accounts. I used Facebook for a few years, but slowly became overwhelmed, then eventually tired with the concept, and thus closed my accounts on MySpace and Facebook.
I wish that I could return to the days of hand written letters, with all of their glory, simplicity, security, and the emotional feelings that can only be expressed through ones own handwriting. While many things have gone digital, and have improved significantly, the one thing that should never have made the transition was handwritten correspondence between close friends. And while the digital age is surely upon us, I will likely always prefer writing letters by hand, and narrative prose within the pages of my Moleskine notebook instead of composing my writing using a computer. Although typing on a computer keyboard is faster, allows for spell correction, and easy undetectable erasure of mistakes, nothing can truly ever replace the timeless experience of writing on paper.[Other things I miss from all the many years gone by (which I will likely write about later on): mix tapes, blank cassette tapes, 35 mm film, campfire stories.]