In some ways today’s technology is better. Say there’s a fire. Wouldn’t you want to know at once that your loved ones were alive and well? And yet, we’ve lost the personal touch that came with the letters which took time and thought to compose.
Letter-writing was once considered an art form, both in terms of elegant handwriting and in the content and style of the missive. Take a look at correspondence from the 18th and early 19th centuries; it’s beautiful! Or read an epistolary novel from the same period. The style feels ‘flowery’ to us now, but I love the detail, the minutiae of everyday life.
I am trying to recall how old I was when I got my first pen pal. I believe it was about age ten. Amy (with whom I am still in touch online, though we no longer exchange letters) lives in New Zealand. Our grandparents used to be friends, before hers emigrated, which is how we came to know each other. For a while she was my only correspondent, but during my teens I gradually acquired more. Some I met through shared interests online or in newsletters. Others came from the Friendship Books passed between people in letters.
Another thing I love about being a pen pal is the opportunity it provides to get to know people from various places and cultures. While we usually share some interests, they may also have diverse pursuits, about which I can learn more through their letters. Then there is the fact that such correspondence allows me an excellent means by which to practice my foreign languages. In some cases, it’s the only real practice in them I get since moving to Australia.
But I fear it may be a dying art. While I do still see plenty of Friendship Books being passed around, and the people in them remain keen to find new pen pals, other factors may put a dampner on things. Postage costs keep going up (though the service seems to get worse in correlation), and with it now costing me $3 to send a single letter, it becomes an expensive hobby when you write to as many people as I do. Still, I am determined to continue and enjoy it for as long as I can, as it seems to me a pursuit worth preserving.
Do you write to pen pals? If so, what do you love most about it? If not, is it something you’ve ever considered doing?