Monday, June 7, 2010

Addicted To Tech – Or – The Lost Art Of Letter Writing

Hello everyone,

Today's New York Times article on technology's potentially nefarious effects on our lives really hit home for me.
"Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information," the New York Times reported in a front page story.
And boy do I have issues: since I started writing this note, an old friend from high school sent me a Facebook instant message (which I clicked on and read and answered); 5 people have responded to my question on Twitter (I'm resisting the urge to read them); and I have received 3 emails (distracting me even further).
Mine is the last generation to have sent and received handwritten letters. Mine is the last generation to have set up dates and meetings with friends on a landline telephone.
I remember with such fondness waiting for the (snail) mail to arrive when I was a teenager in boarding school in Normandy. The days a letter arrived for me, with my name – Hala Basha – written in cursive lettering on the envelope, gave me a thrill stronger than any text message or email.
The ritual of letter-reading was as important as the letter itself: opening the envelope, unfolding the paper, finding a quiet spot to read its content.
There was also the knowledge that if someone took the time to write me a letter and I took the time to respond, it meant that we cared enough about each other to make a special effort to communicate.
Today, communication is cheap. It takes seconds to send an email. It takes no time at all to instant message. We can have a regular, satisfying friendship with someone for years without once seeing what their handwriting looks like.
The sad irony is that technology, while allowing us to be more inter-connected than ever before, has also pushed us away from each other: where is the intimacy in a text? Now that we all have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook – people we often barely know – how many of them are true mates we spend time with in real-life, spend vacations with or invite to weddings and birthday parties?
And the truth is that there is no going back. It would simply mean you're disconnected from the real world. And you'd probably be the only one.
So I won't be throwing away my Blackberry or closing down my Twitter page. But every few years when I'm in Paris, I look through a box of yellowed and fading letters I have stored away in my bedroom and re-read them. For old times' sake.

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