I have had computer problems for the last week. I haven't been able to use my home computer, and I was very surprised by the feeling of helplessness that followed. How am I going to know how much money I have in the bank? How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to keep up with the latest news? How am I going to talk with my friends and family?
Wha? Have I succumbed to the internet's pull and left human contact behind? A 2002 study by Lutz Ebring, a professor of Mass Communication from the University of Berlin, concludes that "For each minute spent on the Internet during the last 24 hours, there is a reduction of approximately one-third of a minute spent with family members." Professor Ebring estimates that at current usage, this means that the average American is spending one less hour per week with his or her family.
That doesn't mean that we aren't emailing them or instant messaging them, but apparently, we aren't phoning them or visiting them, and we definitely aren't writing letters to them. I know that my contact with my family was drastically reduced the last week. Yet, the postal service was still available to me. Why didn't I write a letter?
Writing a letter is an art form that has seemingly been lost. My roommate from college was a genius letter writer. Betsy could write a letter that would leave you feeling like you were right there with her, sharing a great conversation, witnessing the same events, feeling the same emotions. While I missed her terribly every summer during our four years of school, the letters that she sent me during the breaks almost made the time apart worth it. Getting a letter from her was an event.
During our time in college, Betsy and I spent a semester in France. I was terribly home sick -- my French was weak, I missed my mom, my sister and the rest of my family, I felt very out of place, and my solace during this time was writing letters home. I wrote constantly. If I knew you, you probably received a letter from me during this period. It wasn't unusual for me to mail two or three letters each day. And my loved ones were awesome and wrote me back often, brightening my day during a time when I was really struggling to be strong.
Unfortunately, I went through a "purge phase" several years ago and threw away a lot of the letters that I received during my time in France (as well as the great letters from Betsy). Two of the letters that I kept, however, are two of my most treasured possessions -- letters that my Mamaw wrote to me.
I love to reread these letters. Mamaw had the same letter writing genius as Betsy. She wrote as she spoke. Reading her letters thousands of miles away in France felt like sitting in her kitchen having a conversation with her.
"Well, I had the usual crowd for lunch today. Ashleigh's [my sister] girlfriend the Ham came with her. She is a pretty girl to live up Poe Hollow."
"If you see a cute boy over there, leave him be."
"Wendi [my cousin] came out Sunday. She ate two tables down, bless her heart. It was good to see her eat."
I can hear Mamaw's voice when I read these letters, and it almost hurts to think about how much I miss her, but I'm reminded of just how wonderful she was. I am so thankful that I have these letters -- an email wouldn't be nearly as good. Maybe all our computers should go down on occasion and we should write each other some letters.