Modern Communications and the Fall of the Common Letter

There are plenty of people out there today who say that technology has done damage to interpersonal relationships. That we don't get any "face time" anymore. That 6 page long letters to friends have given way to 3 word emails, or worse, one emoticon instant messages from your cell phone. That we as individuals live a life in which we're both, ever closer to, and yet further away from the people around us.

Interestingly enough, these same people tend to be the ones that thought the 50's were America's best time. 'Leave it to Beaver' families, unlimited economic growth, and a dishwasher in every kitchen. I'd also like to point out that the 50's were also the time of segregation, the development of the hydrogen bomb (among other terrible weapons), the Korean War, the McCarthy hearings and blacklists, and the addition of the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

However, as you could probably have guessed, I'm not sold on this relationship argument.

Before the telephone, distance was a big problem. Sure, you might have been friendly with Frank at the general store where you bought milk, but then again.. I'm friendly with Jimmy at the corner store where I buy milk. And yes, letters were longer and more thought out, but that was out of Victorian fancy-pants-ness and necessity more than anything else. It took a while to get a letter from Boston to New York, and you might not get a reply for month or more. So sure, you better write down everything. Many of my emails, are just a few words, but there are far more of them, so I'd argue that the sum total of written communications is at least on par with the past.

I email back and forth with random people I've met on Amtrak trains, ex-girlfriends from high school, world famous recording engineers and others. People who would be completely out of my life except for email. I've still got emails that I received in 1998, some of which are very dear to me. As important as any other letter or card that I may have gotten in the mail. It's just a different medium. A different way to get from A to B, but the message still gets there. Things change, destructive creation as economists say. Something is destroyed so that something else can be created. Of course this is coming from a man who can't write a check without his hand cramping.

Yesterday I had very positive experience with modern communications. The details of course are not that important, but let's just say that a brand new printer that had just been delivered was broken. A metal bar that was supposed to be connected on the inside was decidedly not connected. Now, had this been 10 years ago I would have been stuck getting a 20lb printer to the repair center 10 miles away with no car, before I even had a chance to load the ink.

On a lark I placed a post on a forum for photo geeks like myself, asking if someone could please take a picture of the inside of their printer so I could see where this piece snapped in. Within an hour, two people had posted exactly the picture that I needed to fix my own printer, and with no car necessary. These two people went out of their way and took probably 10 minutes of their time to help out someone they've never even met and with no reward other than thanks.

Go ahead read it yourself: http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1003&message=11090595

If you still think modern technology is causing you to be alone in the universe, then I've got two things to say to you. One: you've always been alone in the universe, technology has nothing to do with it. And Two: nothing is stopping you from buying paper, a pen, some envelopes, and a stamp. Go ahead, knock yourselves out. And while you're at it, why not write it by the light of an oil lamp.