Sunday, 11 November 2007

Letters vs emails

Ten years ago when I was living in Italy, NZ felt so far away it might as well have been on Mars. The only way of keeping in touch with friends was letters that took two weeks to arrive, so it was unusual to hear from anyone more often than once a month and the news was often out of date. I used to look forward to the moment I would get home from school and see if any post had arrived that day, and if no-one had written, I would wait another 24 hours till the next time the post came. The only NZ news I read was the odd newspaper that Dad would send, which while great to read was always old news by the time I received it.
Apart from the odd photo that someone would send me, I spent a year of my life not knowing what most people looked like. As a result I didn't even recognise one of my sisters when I returned, as she had grown taller and had a totally different haircut than a year earlier. I did not have an email address until a year later, and thought that cellphones were something only owned by very wealthy people.

Now, ten years later, I am living overseas again. Emails arrive a few seconds after they are sent, text messages take the same length of time, and I can keep up to date on the smaller details of friends' and family members' lives through Facebook, Bebo, blogs and cheap phone calls. I read the NZ news every day, and look at photos other people post. The only addresses I know by heart are my parents', and don't have any one's landlines. I don't even know what my own is without looking it up. On the other hand, at any given moment, I always know exactly where my cellphone is. .
In only 10 years, things have changed completely. I wonder - which way is better? On the upside of now, I love being up to date with what's going on at home, hearing from people easily, and being able to read the news to find out about what's going on in the world. I love that I can get texts from Dad that say "goodnight, Lauren!", as well as funny joke email forwards from Mum, not to mention all the other communications I get from everyone else. Blogs and Facebook mean that I can see what other people are up to in a way that requires minimal effort and no direct communication. I feel closer to home than I did in Italy, because while I might not always write or text, I know that when I do they are immediate.
On the flip side, though, as everyone else probably thinks like me in terms of using blogs and Facebook to see what people are up to, I receive fewer emails now than letters when I was in Italy. Emails are generally shorter than letters used to be, and I wouldn't recognise the handwriting of some of my closest friends. Emails and texts get deleted and email addresses get de-activated, so I hate to think how future historians are going to research the people of now. Another pro of the old days is that I still have the letters of people who used to write to me that have died, and I would much rather have something to keep that they wrote in their own handwriting than a printed email written in 12-point Times New Roman. There were other benefits of the old method too - once the postman came, that was it. I wouldn't worry again until the next day, unlike now when you can obsessively check emails, cellphones and the Internet.
On balance, I am happier the way things are now. Things are easier, faster, and I like feeling close to home when I'm not. But, still, I feel that this has come at a cost. What do you think?


Miriama said...

I have three points to make.
1) Birthday texts are cool, but I know that noone would actually remember it if facebook and birthday alarm didn't remind them.
2) I think it's important to lose your cellphone (real or false) at least twice a year. The other week my mum rang Richard's parents to find out where I was because I hadn't texted back immediately and she was worried I'd dropped dead in a ditch (from the fatal Kapiti dropping dead disease). People lose rationality very fast if they are not regularly accustomed to going without a phone.

3) I'm inclined to think that people aren't as good at waiting patiently anymore. "Where are you?" "2 mins away" etc etc. Then again you don't feel so horribly bad when you're running half an hour late and you have no way of telling the poor waiter.

4) All these new modes of fast communication can distract us from living. So in many ways, it's like make up and ghd straighteners: FUNDAMENTAL to some people, but not meaningful in the (even slightly) grand scheme of things. I know I said three points, but it's my birthday and I'll write four if I want to.

Sarah said...

Hey there,
letter-writing, emails, communications etc generally make me have guilt attacks!

I think that in past centuries (and by that I mean pre-twentieth!), people wrote letters the way we write personal emails - daily, and filled with the minutiae of life. Now we feel as though a 'proper letter' needs to be deep and meaningful or filled with something REALLY INTERESTING. If it weren't for email, I would almost certainly fall out of regular contact with my friends who don't live in Wellington.
That is all.