Letters, phone calls

Tech Advisor - - FEATURE -

When was the last time you wrote a let­ter? Not a piece of for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, an an­nual round robin or a birth­day card, but an hon­est to good­ness, com­mon-or-gar­den ‘how are you do­ing’ let­ter? For me it’s been at least 10 years. In fact, I can di­rectly trace the demise of my letters cor­re­spon­dence to the birth of what I laugh­ingly call my ‘ca­reer’, and my in­tro­duc­tion to ubiq­ui­tous email.

Dur­ing my stu­dent days, which com­menced af­ter the birth of PC Ad­vi­sor, the only way to keep up with for­mer school­mates was the oc­ca­sion­ally scrawled note. In­fre­quent, but per­sonal and di­rect to the cor­re­spon­dent, friend­ships might lose their im­me­di­acy, but longer-last­ing in­ti­macy was faith­fully pre­served. At the same time I was hon­our-bound to phone my par­ents at least once a week, which re­quired a freez­ing trip to the phonebox (it was al­ways cold), and a brief chat down the line, usu­ally cur­tailed by the pips be­fore my shoul­der gave into the ef­fects of try­ing to hold up a phone the weight of a dumb­bell. I am a man, reader, and a man of York­shire at that. Talk­ing on the phone does not come nat­u­rally to me.

In­ter­est­ingly, my sis­ter at­tended the same univer­sity five years af­ter me, by which time three sig­nif­i­cant things had changed. Most im­por­tantly, the scuzzy old univer­sity bar had be­come a ‘fun pub’. More perti­nently to this fea­ture, SMS via mo­bile phones and email had both be­come pop­u­lar. This meant that, even be­fore so­cial media, IM and mo­bile email came on the scene, my younger sib­ling had a dif­fer­ent so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence of higher ed­u­ca­tion.

While I only vaguely kept in touch with friends from my younger days, Egan mi­nor was able to com­mu­ni­cate daily, if not hourly, with her child­hood pals. As a con­se­quence, the not-mas­sive dis­tance be­tween our child­hood home in Leeds and alma mater in Hull felt a lot big­ger to me than it did her.

Fast-for­ward a few PC Ad­vi­sor is­sues to to­day, and the world is a very dif­fer­ent place. It’s pos­si­ble to keep up a con­stant con­ver­sa­tion with friends and fam­ily re­gard­less of ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tance, us­ing email, texts and in­stant mes­sages. This gives the im­pres­sion of a greater level of in­ti­macy, but does it work like that? It’s a lot eas­ier to keep up the sem­blance of a cor­re­spon­dence when it’s a sim­ple ques­tion of typ­ing and hit­ting send. It’s also less pri­vate: whether or not you make it clear to your re­cip­i­ents, it’s sim­ple to send dig­i­tal mail from one to many.

It’s also the case that be­fore ev­ery­one ha­bit­u­ally texted each other you had to make a firm time and place to meet up, rather than head­ing to the same area and re­ly­ing on tech­nol­ogy to hook you up. Thus even faceto-face meet­ings be­come more ca­sual af­fairs.

On the other hand, I know I’m able to main­tain re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple I care about that I wouldn’t be able to in a world with­out email, SMS and IM. And I’m more likely to send some­one a text ask­ing if they want to meet up than I ever would phone them.

The shift from more for­mal, pa­per and phone-based com­mu­ni­ca­tions to dig­i­tal mes­sag­ing has changed the way we live.

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