Last Friday night I turned my phone off at 6 p.m. and didn’t turn it back on until Saturday around noon. Do you know what I missed in those 17 hours of not checking my texts and emails?
Not a thing. When I turned it back on, I didn’t have even one new text, voicemail, or email.
I’m not suggesting that everyone has the luxury of being able to turn their phones off for such a long period of time, and there are certainly reasons that you should be available for your loved ones in case of emergency.
Maybe I should be insulted that I didn’t receive any communication during my hours of going off the grid.
But here’s my point: On a typical night, I would have grabbed my phone to check for texts or emails at least a couple times each hour. And I’m not even a millennial!
If you ever long for a slower pace of communication, try snail mail: it wins (or loses) the race every time. The beauty of the letter is that the mail only comes once a day. Of course, I’m sure that before the time of instant communication, the equivalent of today’s obsessive phone checking was going out to the physical mailbox multiple times a day to see if the post had arrived. But after the mail came for the day, surely it would not come again. People could rest easy knowing they had received everything they could hope for that day.
They had time off from waiting and checking.
Most communication tasks today can be accomplished by one of the many modes of digital communication we have constant access to on our mobile devices. There is no off-time, unless we physically turn off our devices.
Back in college, my best friends and I would exchange letters the size of small novels between Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And when you received a letter, that was something to really cherish. You wouldn’t just quickly skim it in the midst of dinner with a friend or while getting into the car. I would save my letters and read them in a favorite chair over a cup of tea. Both the act of writing and the act of reading seemed more special with snail mail.
Writing and reading letters was a time of reflection and centering for me, all without the distraction/allure of an Internet browser in the background.
There are some situations in which snail mail still prevails. Wedding invitations, thank you notes, condolence cards, and holiday cards seem to be pretty standard for snail mail. Many of my relatives still send me real paper birthday cards, though I would never expect such a thing from anyone younger than me. It seems personal and important events warrant more paper. I can’t think of the last time anyone sent me snail mail just to say “Happy Friday!” or to ask my opinion on a new pair of boots.
Last week I sent a real paper thank you note to a colleague who had helped me out with a project. The next time I saw her, she said, “I got your card. You write the best thank you notes!” I don’t know if she would have felt that way if I had written an email. I suppose I could send her a letter asking her...
As a kindergarten teacher, I am showered with notes and drawing on a daily basis. I think that kids are naturally drawn to writing and drawing on paper. In fact, during our Friday Choice Time, so many students choose to write and draw that I constantly have to replenish the paper supply. Often times the computers go unoccupied while tables of students huddle around, cutting, gluing, coloring, and writing. Computer screens may be bright and flashy, but paper engages on a physical level that computers can't.
A Parks and Recreation episode made me laugh out loud when a character from a scene set in 2017 was handed a report and said, “Paper? Retro!” I fear soon paper will be retro, if it’s not already.
But like that satin jumpsuit, retro is cool. Let’s bring the snail mail back.
Originally posted on The Loft Literary Center's Writers’ Block Blog, May 2016.