The Fading Art
A week ago I saw a news story where an elderly man had received a love letter over half a century after it was originally sent. Delayed only in delivery, the letter was in mint condition.
Well, this story got me thinking. I regularly read accounts of people long lost to the passage of time and when reading their letters and diaries I try to imagine what life was like for them? I attempt to read between the lines and get a feeling for what they lived through. Their personal letters and diaries offer an unguarded view into the past… and more importantly a look into their daily lives which tells us a lot about the world they lived in.
I tried and simply cannot remember the last time I mailed someone a handwritten letter that was not a bill. Perhaps in the early 90s? 80s?
In our modern age of brief rapid fire emails and 24/7 availability by cell phone have we lost something important? Have we lost the art of the letter?
What I wonder about is this… What will historians of the future (say a thousand years from now) study to learn about our culture today and the world we lived in? How will they ‘read’ between the lines? Obviously, if available and accessible they will study our News Broadcasts, TV media, and online content including blogs, news and email. Will digital records survive that long? Is such a thing possible? I don’t know. Will a future archeologist’s ‘dream’ be discovering a Western Digital hard drive with an email account or perfectly preserved iPod/MP3 player complete with podcasts and music in an ancient land fill? How will they learn about who we were? It’s kind of interesting to ponder such things.
In studying old letters and diaries you notice something you don’t often see in emails, blogs, news or public statements… unguarded and genuine thoughts and feelings of those who wrote them. Will future historians discover that with the digital age not only did ‘they’ lose something important but we did too? Letter writing and diaries seem to be a fading art and I find that, from a research perspective, to be tremendously distressing.