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Requiem to snail mail

The weather turned decisively cold – every morning now I have to scrape frost off the windshield. No expectations of snow, though. Duh!!!

Over the last few days, I have been reminded how little a part snail mail plays in our lives these days. Not the official paperwork, or some useless spam, but good old paper-based correspondence between friends.

When I first came to America, electronic mail was a novel concept even there, to say nothing of backwaters of the former Soviet Union. I had quite a lot of time on my hands the first several months (welfare does that for you), and literally every day I would produce a hand-written letter either to Natasha, who stayed behind for over a year, or to one of my numerous university friends. Natasha answered daily, the rest of friends rarely if ever… The shortest turnaround for a written response was somewhere around 10 days, and more often than not letters came in bunches: Not a single one for several days, and then three or four one day. I still remember how I cherished every single letter and how receiving them gave me additional boost in writing more and more.

Natasha joined me in the States eventually. The rest of my correspondents answered less and less promptly. We bought a home PC and eventually subscribed to a dial-up ISP. In a fairly short time, electronic mail – later augmented by social networking – has completely replaced poor snail mail as the primary means of penpalmanship (have I just invented this word?).

Now, my kids barely know what it means to write letters.

To be fair, Kimmy is not old enough to be a prolific correspondent anyway, and she actually does write in her hand letters to her best pal in the States. Tessa responds in kind. But writing is clearly still a novel activity to 7-year-olds, so one cannot seriously consider their correspondence as a snail mail revival. Within a year, Kimmy will surely catch up to the idea of having her own email address (which she already does!) and switch to typing on a keyboard (which she already knows how to do quite well).

Becky has one single friend who writes not electronically. Given how much time my own teenager spends online, I am surprised that there is a girl of the same age anywhere who actually likes to write on paper. Receiving letters from her gives Becky an incentive to try her skill as well, and I can only cheer for that.

Me, I write to my favorite high-school teacher in Russia. Once a year, if that often.

And what do you know, I type up the letter in MS Word, print it out, and the only four letters that come out from under the actual pen is my name signed at the bottom…

Posted in Apropos