Voices

Letter be

By the

April 5, 2001


I’m beginning to think that I was born in the wrong era. Well, that’s not quite true. I actually came to the conclusion a long time ago, but it’s only recently I’ve decided that I unequivocally agree with it.

As I was born in 1982, of course I tight-rolled my jeans and would have given my right arm to see the New Kids on the Block in concert (once I even tried to convince my parents that they were going to be bigger than the Beatles), but I can’t say that I completely identify with that generation. Whenever I receive those “You-know-you’re-a-child-of-the-’80s-if” e-mails I inevitably fail … miserably.

When the majority of my peers progressed from fascinations with slap bracelets and walkie-talkies to their current obsessions with pagers and cell phones, I was left behind. Even that’s not truly accurate, because I suppose I was never with them to begin with. Most of the time I was more interested in playing make-believe in my mom’s and grandma’s old dresses than in whacking a piece of metal against my wrist and watching it coil up like a snake. And now, I have no desire to own a cell phone simply so that people can reach me on a whim. I’m at no one’s beck and call, nor do I plan to willingly put myself in that position anytime in the near future.

I have to admit, though, there is one piece of current technology that I’ve come to depend on: e-mail. For someone who doesn’t place much importance in being constantly connected, I’ve become the picture of a junkie. I e-mail my mom back and forth God only knows how many times daily, and as scary as it was at first, both my dad and my grandparents have learned how to operate this new-fangled machine (a.k.a. computer) so that we can keep in touch.

At the same time that I rely on my e-mail correspondences, I don’t think I could ever let go of my love for hand-written letters. When I was growing up I had pen-pals in Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Australia, and a few more scattered around the United States. I still have every one of the letters they sent me. E-mail may be faster and more convenient, but there’s something genuinely uplifting about opening up a mailbox and seeing envelopes passed along by human hands that is missing from the ever-perky, but packaged, “You’ve got mail!” In certain business situations, and for just sending off quick notes, even I agree that snail mail is not the way to go. But for personal letters, you just can’t beat seeing the other person’s words in their own, distinctive handwriting.

I’m not even sure if she realizes that I know or not, but my mom has an old Lord & Taylor box under her bed. In it, she has tucked away all the letters and notes my dad wrote to her before they were married. I’m sure not all of them would be considered “love notes” per se, but that’s the basic gist. How many people our age will ever have love notes to hang onto and treasure? And if we have a significantly reduced probability of accumulating them, I can’t imagine what the children I may someday have will hold onto for sentimental value. It’s a lot easier to accidentally press the delete button on your e-mail account than it is to inadvertently destroy tangible objects!

Call me a sentimental sap if you feel you need to; I’m not even sure that I would dispute it. I know they may not always be practical and time-efficient, but I want to have pen-pal letters and love letters and just plain old, “hey-what’s-up” letters to stuff in a box under my bed someday. I want my children to have them and their children to have them and their children to have them. I’m not asking anyone to give up his or her computer, though, and no one sure as hell better try to wrestle mine from me.

So maybe the root of my problem isn’t my generation alone. I think my beef’s actually with our culture in general. (No, I’m not going to lament the fact that I was born to a twentieth-century American family instead of into the royal court of King Tut.) Maybe I don’t avoid fads and trends so much because of a distinct aversion to new technology, but because I fear what they may do with the “traditional” things I cling to so tightly. Many people our parents’ age seem to form a common bond by lamenting their children’s preference for Playstation over pick-up baseball games during the summer months. So I’m not a middle-aged soccer mom or a 9-to-5 working father who threatens to pull the mini-van over if his kids don’t stop pestering each other in the back seat. Yet, in some warped, yet confusingly rational way, I understand how they feel.



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