There’s a clearly marked “before” and “after” in my communication life.
For many years, especially living in Chile, I’d write letters to family and friends on crinkly airmail paper. When living in California, I used creamy fine stationary or my friends and I would give each other flowery notecards with decorative envelopes. As soon as my writing was legible, my mother taught me the skill of writing thank you notes on special paper with cute little squirrels or puppies. Thank you notes were a strict requirement of good manners.
Hallmark invented a shortcut to notes and letters: the greeting card. Thank you, Happy Birthday, Get Well, Across the Miles, Heartfelt Condolences. Yet etiquette still demanded a short note on the card.
I have a drawer-full of fine stationary and notecards given to me years ago or inherited from my mother. In our attic cards and letters from friends and family huddle in boxes. The handwriting on each reveals the sender. I recognize the distinctive penmanship of my mother and father, my grandmothers, Aunty Belle and, yes, even a couple of boyfriends, sparking fond, vivid memories.
Writing letters and making phone calls once complemented each other. With vastly improved phone service, long distance calls were more reasonable and no longer interrupted by crackling static as if the caller were on Mars.
Now with my cell phone distances have shrunk. What pleasure to see the dear face of Paula, my closest friend back home, on facetime! We haven’t been together in three years. We have spirit- lifting, hour-long conversations.
Gmail has replaced airmail, and I write letters on the computer. Do I have any handwritten letters from my sons? Maybe handmade birthday cards from their childhood or a postcard from Indonesia. I doubt they have samples of my handwriting. Perhaps someday they’ll discover the boxes of airmail letters in the attic, decades of communication with my family.
WhatsApp messages are instantaneous. No waiting for the mailman. Fast but impersonal. My sons send cellphone photos of grandkids, but seldom do I hear their voices.