The last thing I wanted to be doing on a Sunday afternoon was cleaning my basement. Unexpectedly, it wasn’t the worst. I found some old letters. Where could these have come from, I wondered? Who even writes letters anymore?
It turned out they were from my grandpa, during World War II. He was writing from a Navy ship in the Pacific to his family back home in Minnesota.
Men and women in the Navy had only a few opportunities to write letters home, so those were treasured by both the sailor and the family. I can’t even begin to imagine how ecstatic family members must have been to receive handwritten letters after waiting and wondering about how their loved ones were doing, whether they had been hurt and whether they knew when they were coming home.
As the years have passed, fewer people are found writing letters. The only people I know of who still do are the elderly, soldiers and prisoners (although there’s the occasional congratulations letter). They write letters only because they don’t have access to modern technology or don’t know how to use it, or because they need to send money along with a card. The recipients are the only people who still get the wonderful feeling of having a letter addressed especially to them, and of not knowing what’s inside until they open it. Also, this is a type of memento you can keep forever.
Businesspeople get about 800 e-mails a week. Half are ads and spam, while they have to go through and read the remaining 400. This can be a taxing job. If it’s late and you’re going through the last of the day’s e-mails before you can go home, most likely you are on autopilot and not comprehending much.
If you received three letters in the mail, compared with 800 e-mails a week, they would seem much more significant. It takes more time to sit down and write a meaningful and thoughtful letter than it does to send something electronically. It’s more personal and valuable.
When most kids go to a camp, their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even friends are given the opportunity to send them letters to help them feel less homesick. I remember when I went on my first overnight trip. Everyone was so excited about getting letters — and seeing who they were from and who had the most. There were no cellphones and no distractions from the beautiful nature around us.
Now I am a counselor at that camp, and even though we have a rule that cellphones aren’t allowed, the kids bring them anyway, because they don’t know what to do without them. Instead of enjoying the outdoors, they put their heads down and play games on their phones, or text.
Also, there have been far fewer letters coming through to the kids, because parents think it’s OK to just text their child to see how they are doing and how camp is going. The hilarity is, the kids don’t know “how it is going.” They have been on their phones.
The reason people have stopped writing letters and communicate electronically is that we are cutting corners. In a fast-moving society, we need to free up time in our schedules so we can fit in even more activities.
People need to slow down and put some thought into what they write.
Lauren Gustafson is a student at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School.