Bay Reflections

 Vol. 10, No. 6

February 7 - 13, 2002

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E-Mail Will Just Have to Do …
Until the Real Thing Comes Along
by M.L. Faunce

It was an innocuous e-mail, with just “Hi” in the subject line. But the virus it contained shut down the computers of all in my office who innocently read its message. The virus spread, as viruses do, with a vengeance. My co-workers spent the next 48 hours fighting the bug that put this most fashionable form of instant communication on hold.

First computers made personal, handwritten correspondence archaic; now heightened security, threats of anthrax and the searing effects of irradiated mail have put a further crimp in communicating through the mails.

Anyway, who has time to write a long, deliberate epistle of the heart, to share family news or even to fire off some missive aimed mostly at getting things off our chest?

Now, we accept the occasional computer virus as we do the common cold, a mild nuisance bound to go away. Cursive just doesn’t cut it anymore.

What history will glean from e-mail messages left behind is anybody’s guess. It’s doubtful they’ll be carefully tied in bundles with ribbons, put away in a drawer to be discovered years later. Now, messages and their sentiments — often as fleeting as the times, and in such prodigious quantity — are read and deleted with abandon.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, some romantics particularly lament this sad state of affairs.

For it was not always so. At Valentine’s Day, it’s sweet to be reminded we can still read Harry Truman’s letters to his “Dear Bess.” He penned more than 600 letters of exacting devotion, as well as a few political tirades.

During the American Revolution, John Adams, framer of the Declaration of Independence, and his wife Abigail exchanged mountains of correspondence. His “Dear Abby” epistles are now considered masterpieces, letting all know what was on the heart — as well as on the mind — of a Founding Father.

Not only spouses, like the prodigious Mark Twain to his wife Livey, poured our their hearts. The collected letters of the related and unrelated, of friends and foe, of lovers and their beloved from ages past can enrich lives even today.

Jack Smith over in Galesville has long collected letters written by GIs during World War II to folks back home. He’s searched out many of these vets or their families and plans to publish their letters so we, too, can read the words of local boys sent off to war.

Back in the 1950s when a TV chorus crooned to Perry Como, “We get letters, stacks and stacks of letters,” sacks of envelopes were thrown out on the stage, letters spilling out everywhere. Back then, we understood the tangible, tactile experience of holding a letter in our hand.

For Valentine’s Day, you might try it again, this form of correspondence that can’t be deleted but just might end up tied in a ribbon, waiting in a drawer to tell its story again and again.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly