Back online, somewhat ambivalently

Roll1022ed

People sent me a lot of postcards during the digital-detox experiment, but this one is probably my favorite since it combines postcard, newspaper and typewriting all in one.

 

After six months of immersing myself in Slow Media, I’m back online now — though still not using a cellphone. Interwebbing was fun for the first few days, but surprisingly the excitement faded fast.

Since starting the experiment in July, I have used payphones and yellow pages and typewriters… penned piles of letters and postcards… watched all my VHS tapes and listened to all my audiocassettes (along with some vinyl, until my record-player broke)… devoured a huge stack of newspapers and books… deciphered many a printed map…. and taken photographs with disposable cameras, 35mm film and Polaroids.

It was really fun. And honestly, life without digital media wasn’t that hard, folks. You should try it. Maybe just for a day, or a weekend?

Next up: I might perform a week of silent meditation to challenge the assumption that we need to speak, or maybe I’ll stop washing my hair for a few months to prove that we don’t need shampoo.

The fading art of letter-writing

WNYC’s Leonard Lopate caught my attention when he began this radio program about letter-writing by asking, “Can you remember the last time you sat down to write someone a letter that was more than just a note?” (My answer was: Yes! That very morning I had written a letter to my friend in Paris, even though I could have posted a note on her Facebook wall… or sent her an e-mail… or commented on her blog.)

What followed was an intriguing interview with the author of a book called Yours Ever: People and their Letters, which discusses the loss of these social and historical artifacts. Thomas Mellon, who has also written about diary-keeping, said he started this project 15 years ago when e-mail was just nascent. It evolved into an “elegy” to the genre, he said — which suggests that he thinks letter-writing is dead, though perhaps not beyond resuscitation.

Some other questions Lopate could have posed: Do you think that you’ll be re-reading old e-mails, text messages and Facebook posts some day in your golden years? Will your children be able to browse through your e-mails after you’re gone, to see what their parents were like as younger people? Are future scholars likely to delve into your old digital messages and revel in the valuable insights they offer?

Celebrate National Handwriting Day

How's your penmanship these days? With the development of more affordable and
sophisticated writing gadgets, American Educator magazine
notes, "It seems the death of handwriting
draws closer every year." According to the article, dozens of studies have found that handwriting instruction improves writing — in terms of not only its legibility but also its quality and quantity.

In honor of National Handwriting Day this week, enjoy this classic essay by Lance Morrow that ran in Time magazine in 1986. He imagines the Toad character from The Wind in the Willows giving up pen and pencil for a typewriter, and then ditching that machine in favor of a word processor. One day, Toad decides to pick up the handwriting habit again and "finds himself seduced, in love, scribbling away in the transports of a new passion."

So why not celebrate handwriting by scribbling a postcard or letter to a friend or relative, who will value it more than an e-mail or text message?  That's what I'm going to do right now…

The Ministry of Melancholic Nostalgia for Thing-ness

Gorey

For Edward Gorey, even letters to Mom featured whimsical illustrations from his morbid imagination. (Photo copyright Goreyography.com)  


I found myself captivated this summer by an exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum of Edward Gorey illustrations
that included some exquisite hand-drawn envelopes for letters he had
written to his mother, Helen. Even more than the other beautiful, amusing and slightly macabre work
on display, those drawings got me thinking about the loss of material
artifacts that comes with digital communication and its insinuation
into every nook of daily life. Librarians and historians and curators
certainly must rue this turn of events, but so do I.

Digging
through my parents' garage, I recently unearthed a shoebox stuffed with
letters from an old long-distance flame of mine. Some day far in the
future, when I'm feeling nostalgic or working on my memoirs, I'll enjoy
reading those heartfelt missives and laughing (or cringing) at
reminders of the British life I used to lead. It's saddening that I
won't be able to do the same for my lovely and amazing boyfriend now,
because the flurry of romantic texts and e-mail and chat messages he
sends me aren't sitting safely in a box anywhere.

If a museum
ever mounted a retrospective on my life, the curators would be stymied
trying to exhibit anything after 1997-1998, when I sent my parents a
parcel of letters from Beijing that now serve as my main diary of that
Chinese escapade. (Note: The letters feature an unfortunate lack of
resemblance to Gorey's. I accepted the fact a long time ago that drawing does not count among my talents.) To represent the past decade, they'd have to
turn to my Facebook profile… and anyone could read that at home without heading
to the museum. Where's the fun in that? People would miss out on not only crystallizing moments — such as the Brandywine one, which led me to launch
this blog — but also gift shops.