Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twitter? Facebook? Instant Messaging?

What’s it all about, Alfie? I’m comfortable with e-mail, thank you very much, and don’t feel the need to expand my communications outlets. Nevertheless, as anyone knows who’s mistakenly sent an e-mail message to the wrong person, e-mail does have its drawbacks. (Like the time I accidentally confided a delicate diagnosis from my doctor to a “boy” who’d been in my elementary school class!)

Los Angeles Times reporter Robin Abcarian in an article this week relates how some fired employees are using email message to take parting shots at their employers. “The farewell e-mail suddenly has become commonplace, a new art form in the electronic age. Yet like so many aspects of the Internet era – how to unfriend on Facebook, how much to reveal on a personal blog – the technology has gotten ahead of the etiquette. There are no rules.”

Remember letters? The kind the mailman brings to your door? This week, I received a letter from an old friend, following a luncheon that she and I had with two other friends from college. It had been a few decades since we’d last met, so the time was enjoyed reminiscing, updating, and showing pictures, of course, of our grandchildren.

What a delight it was to receive a few days later a letter, an actual letter with a stamp and a signature, as a follow-up to the luncheon. Mailed letters are rare these days, so it was quite nice to receive one. I’m one of those people who save letters. When I moved last summer I brought with me a box of letters I’d received over the years from my parents, my Aunt May, my daughter, my sons, even a couple of old love letters. Letters keep. E-mail messages – unless you save them to a special folder – can be deleted by the stroke of a finger.

Another factor may soon affect the decline of letter writing. The U.S. Postal Service is planning to cut mail delivery to five days a week. I remember the days when the mailman came to our front door twice a day. Yes, until 1950, mail was delivered in the morning and in the afternoon. (For a perspective on the U.S.P.S., click on the article in The Oregonian on February 5th by Susan Nielsen.
Of course, we don’t want to go back to the “old days.”

Instant communication has its advantages. Yet there are many times when the need calls for a longer, more personal message, one that can only be put in an envelope and dropped in the mailbox.

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