The lost art of letter-writing - Jason Smith

Over the weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of hosting my pastor and his wife for dinner as the first official guests in our new house. During the evening, the four of us talked about everything from religion, to family life, to politics.

We had a wonderful conversation, but something which stuck out in my mind about the night was when the subject of technology came up. We talked about how much technology has changed the way we, as a society, interact with each other.

Ever since that night, I haven't been able to shake the topic from my head. So, I decided to write about it - and more specifically, about what I call the lost art of letter-writing.

When I was a teenager, I was fairly well known for being able to compose letters of ridiculous length. I had a number of close friends who lived in places like Alabama, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina.

Some of these people, I met while I was on vacation with family or friends. Others became a part of my life because they were important to someone who was already a part of my life. In any case, it was customary for us to write letters that were several pages long on a regular basis.

I remember one dear friend, with whom I am still close, who once wrote me an 11-page letter. I was always so thrilled to get any kind of correspondence from her, but a letter of that length seemed to communicate that she cared enough to take her time in updating me on her life.

My response to her, of course, was a 22-page letter. I'm still not even sure how it fit in the mailbox, when I sent it to her. Part of the reason for my long letter was probably due to the fact that I can talk a person's ear off -- if he, or she, lets me. But part of it was also because I knew my friend would actually read it.

These days, however, it seems as though the days of writing long letters are a thing of the past. We live in such a microwave culture now, where everything is supposedly better because it is done faster.

We've got cell phones, e-mail, blogs, and a list of social-networking sites which seems to grow larger by the week. I readily confess that I have used several of them, and that I am probably one of the biggest Facebook addicts who ever lived.

That being said, I can't recall the last time I wrote a letter to someone, or received one in the mail. We seem to have abandoned the concept of sitting down at a desk for an hour or two, and pouring our hearts out to another person, on paper. Maybe we don't want to wait a few days for the recipient to open the letter, and then have to wait for them to respond.

One of the benefits of technology, I admit, is that we are no longer forced to wait in such a manner. However, one thing I've noticed about living in my new home is that all I ever get in the mail are bills. Call me crazy, but I don't want that to be the only reason anyone has my address.

A big part of the reason letter-writing has been largely tossed aside as a form of communicating, is that we are simply too busy. I know I'm a busier person than I was as a teenager, because that's part of being an adult, but that's not exactly what I'm talking about. I think we have become so enthralled with technology, that we don't make time for the little things as much as we used to. Whereas, I used to write someone a letter just to let them know I was thinking about them, I now find myself sending them a text message or dropping them a line on Facebook.

Somehow, that just doesn't seem like it's enough. I wonder how different our relationships with people would be, if we took the time to actually write letters again, every once in a while.

By no means am I suggesting we shouldn't use the advantages that have been afforded to us by technology. But surely, there is more to life than microwave friendships.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.