Thursday, December 16, 2010


I'm old enough to remember sending out paper Christmas cards. I even wrote letters to go in each. Not a generic Christmas letter, but hand-written personal notes to friends and family. I'd start around November 1 in order to get 100 cards and letters done and mailed.

About a dozen years ago, I wussed out and wrote the generic Christmas letter. Around eight years ago, I turned that task over to my cat. I took more shortcuts: printed labels, return address labels, etc. I also reduced the number of cards sent. I decided if I didn't receive a card, the people to whom I was mailing cards weren't interested in what I was doing. I didn't want to annoy them. This year, I mailed fewer than 50 cards and letters.

What I'm seeing in return is a shift in the way we think about communicating. E-mail used to be a good way of sending notes to our friends. Individual notes with actual news in them. Health updates. Travel updates. A real message addressed to me. I noticed a subtle shift a few years back. More messages came in addressed to me but were clearly generic in nature. Many of my friends discovered the .bcc function in e-mail programs. Notes moved from personal to impersonal.

Time passed and people discovered Facebook and Twitter. Now, I get postings all day long from my friends. It's easy to send out a blast on FB and think you are communicating. You are, but you aren't reaching me on a personal level. Maybe you don't want to. (Think about Obama using the teleprompter instead of looking into the camera. I'm sitting in front of the TV, dammit. LOOK AT ME.)

I've been thinking about this a lot. We've lost the ability to reach people on a personal level. We mistake pokes, and jokes, and forwarded messages for communication. It's not helping us relate to our children. Oh, what's that you say? You just text your kids when you want to get their attention. At the dinner table. In the same room. In the same house. How silly is that?

Know that I'll read your messages with the attention they deserve. And then I will hit the delete key on e-mail to kill a FW: FW: FW: joke or ignore the message on FB.

I was looking through a desk drawer last weekend. It was like an archaeological dig. I discovered a fountain pen that belonged to my great-grandfather. It has a lever to draw ink into the barrel from a bottle that used to sit on his desk. I held it for a long time. What would it be like to sit with fine stationery and write a letter using a fountain pen again? Probably would make the recipient drop dead in shock. I don't want that responsibility.

1 comment:

Cathy Kennedy said...

I totally hear you, Betsy, and you're absolutely right. I, like you, would pour myself into each Christmas card with personal notes and for what? I surely didn't get the attention back. It's like a stab in the heart. Unfortunately I have caved to generating form Christmas letters for family only. Most friends I keep up with usually know most of the news in my life, so there isn't much point passing on the annual Christmas newsletter. I have known for quite some time our society's lack of communication plummeting. Hi-tech did make keeping in touch more convenient for a time, but the more we get involved with things then hi-tech only makes it simplier to send masss greetings on a not-so-personal level, but I decided that if this is the only way I'm going to get news from friends or family, then it's better than nothing. I'll enjoy my visits no matter how they come. BTW, our Christmas cards (paper type) received have slacked off bunches over the years. Thus, I've gotten reluctant about sending out 100s, as I once did.