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Sometimes email is just too fast - Helen's journal and online home
In which an old dog attempts to learn new tricks.
heleninwales
heleninwales
Sometimes email is just too fast
An LJ friend has just posted that he's thinking of taking up writing letters again in order to keep in touch with an elderly friend who isn't online. I started this as a comment to his post, but it grew rather too long, so I thought I'd make it a post of my own.

There are people who dismiss online friendships and seem to think that only face-to-face interaction is meaningful. But those of us old enough to have once had a regular letter writing habit know that online is just the modern version of pen pals or keeping in touch with old friends via letter.

I have actually been thinking of trying to reinstate a letter writing correspondence with an old university friend. Though she has email, she never took to the online stuff and we've slipped down to just exchanging notes at Christmas time. As she lives in New York, we are unable to meet and time zones (not to mention how much trans-Atlantic phone calls used to cost, plus my phonophobia) made phone conversations into rare occurrences.

Email is fine for work or discussing things like writing or other shared interests, especially if there are a few of you. But -- and this might seem a bit odd -- to me it feels too fast for a friendly exchange of information one-to-one. Facebook and Twitter work because you keep updating little snippets, but if you write a lengthy screed in an email and get a response later the same day, what do you do? Do you write a lengthy screed back (much too time-consuming!), or wait for a week? Posting times enforced a nice slow pace to the exchange in the past. A letter very week or so felt about right, but email is expected to be instant, which doesn't suit the old style of penal pen pal relationship. Perhaps it's about to rediscover old skills and, while I'm at it, I could give my fountain pens a bit of exercise. :)

[Edited to correct typo!]

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/74625.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

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Comments
athgarvan From: athgarvan Date: December 9th, 2012 11:58 am (UTC) (Link)
But when you get to my age the old hands become very wobbly when holding a pen.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Indeed, that is a good point! I'm not saying that my hands are wobbly yet, but I must admit that my writing is very messy these days because I only jot down notes or scribble down ideas that are to be typed up later.
pickledginger From: pickledginger Date: December 9th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, but the keyboard conceals all! I really must get my printer set up; it's not doing much good in that box.
blackberry44 From: blackberry44 Date: December 9th, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right of course, but I think my rickety rheumatic fingers are no longer equal to writing lengthy letters.

I have a friend (who I've never met but we just clicked online) and we just send each other a lengthy e-mail about every two months. This has been going on for several years and reminds me that it's time to e-mail her again. We also exchange cards and small gifts for Christmas and birthdays. We have occasionally spoken on the phone, but I think the occasional long e-mail fulfills our emotional requirements.

One day, when the weather is good and I've won the lottery, I'm going to make the journey from Newcastle to South Wales to meet her in the flesh and I'm sure well get on like a house on fire.
blackberry44 From: blackberry44 Date: December 9th, 2012 12:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
And I forgot to say how much I like getting a proper letter in the handfuls of irrelevant post I get every day.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I take your point about the problems of ageing hands. Mine are not wobbly yet, but I must admit that my writing is very messy these days because I only ever jot down notes or scribble down ideas that are to be typed up later.
From: cmcmck Date: December 9th, 2012 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
'penal relationship'

Well, I used to write to a woman who was in prison, but I don't think that's what you meant :o)
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Aaargh! Bloody spell checker! I'm never sure whether words like "pen pal" are "penpal", "pen-pal" or "penpal". Must have clicked on the wrong thing. :)
endlessrarities From: endlessrarities Date: December 9th, 2012 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
If my correspondence was based on snail mail I'd never get around to writing... I much prefer the immediacy of electronic correspondence - might mean 500% more blethering, but at least friendships are maintained.

I have lost a number of worthy friends in the past through my absent-mindedness and neglect:-(
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 05:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I admit that it's just one friend I'm considering writing to on paper via snail mail. All my writing friends were made online and we've migrated from Usenet to LJ and Facebook and Twitter and email one another if required. The other old university friend emails and we see one another a couple of times a year because she and her husband like holidays in Wales and we like holidays in London. :)
From: ex_hrj Date: December 9th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with you about the conversational pace of e-mail. When I have a correspondent that I'm exchanging deep meaningful essays with, I always angst over how much time to leave between responses. Too soon, and I feel like we're setting a pace we can't maintain. (To say nothing of imposing an expectation of taking up more time in their day.) Too long, and time slips away (and sometimes the last e-mail scrolls out of present knowledge.)
asakiyume From: asakiyume Date: December 9th, 2012 05:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Too soon, and I feel like we're setting a pace we can't maintain. (To say nothing of imposing an expectation of taking up more time in their day.) Too long, and time slips away (and sometimes the last e-mail scrolls out of present knowledge.)

--I should have read comments before posting: you've said precisely what I think, only better!
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 05:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, yes! That's it exactly. This old friend and I have similar tastes in books and though they were not exactly deep meaningful essays, we used to write long letters to one another talking about what we'd been reading and recommending stories to one another. The relationship has never satisfactorily shifted to email, at least in part because of the timing reason.
asakiyume From: asakiyume Date: December 9th, 2012 05:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I absolutely agree with you about the factor of speed! And in fact, even with emails (and even with FB exchanges, sometimes), I sometimes deliberately rein in my desire to respond right away precisely because I don't want the exchange to burn out. Letters automatically make for a more reasonable pace. (The problem with letters, for me, is that sometimes I get **too** relaxed about them, and then the correspondence withers.)

But yeah: I think different styles of friendship benefit from different styles of interaction, and for some, paper correspondence is just-right.

(Penal/pen pal is an interesting typo--especially for me, as the pen pal relationship in the story I'm writing involves a person in prison!)
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: December 9th, 2012 05:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do put off replying to emails, but if I'm not careful, they pile up in my inbox and get buried under routine stuff and then end up being forgotten. :(

All my writing friends were made online and we've migrated from Usenet to LJ and Facebook and Twitter and also email one another if required. My other old university friend emails and we see one another a couple of times a year because she and her husband like holidays in Wales and we like holidays in London, but somehow the correspondence with my old New York friend never transferred to electronic means and we're too far apart for visits.
pickledginger From: pickledginger Date: December 9th, 2012 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I find email a great substitute for telephone calls -- so much better than voicemail! -- but not for letters.

Also, as has already been mentioned, there is something rare and special these days about non-electronic correspondence.

I think it's wonderful that you are perpetuating that all-but-lost art! I was a big letter-writer for many years. i hope to resume that practice one day -- though, at this point, I would have to resort to typing and printing out my words.
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