Leaving Letters Behind

Do you remember what it was like to have a pen pal? I had  pen pal when I was thirteen years old. His name was Jason, he was from America and he was awesome. I ‘found’ Jason through a pen pal service called the International Youth Service (IYS). All I had to do was fill in a form telling them who I wanted to write to, from where, what sex (male of course – I was pretty desperate to have a boyfriend) and what age, and voila, they connected me with Jason.

Now bear in mind this was 1994, therefore we corresponded using actual letters. Written on lined paper, our messy handwriting complete with ink blotches, doodles and occasional kisses, we stuffed our letters into little envelopes and sent them to each other all the time. We talked about lots of things – family, friends, different things in our worlds, music we liked (the best ever letter contained a mix tape of his favourite songs and was my introduction to Snoop Dog), and even whether we might one day be boyfriend and girlfriend – I know, yuck, yawn, eww. But we were teenagers so we can be excused.

Having a pen pal was fantastic. I loved writing to Jason and I loved the anticipation of waiting to see when he was going to write again and what he would say.

The IYS closed down in 2008 because it could no longer compete with the internet. Isn’t that sad that we lost that? The internet is fab and all of the many ways we can communicate now with people instantly are fab too but I can’t help thinking we have lost that anticipation, intrigue, mystery, and longing for correspondence and messages that are not on our phones at the touch of a button. Wondering what people will say, how they are, what things have happened since they last wrote. I miss that.

Being able to catch up on people’s lives has changed from being a steady communication we offered to our acquaintances at regular intervals to being at best an instant message and at worst, found out by default through snooping on social media (and yes, I’m as guilty as anyone else of this).

In the end though, I suppose none of this will make our younger generation feel sad because they know no different. They are growing up in the digital age and letters to them will be to Santa once a year, or from their banks or colleges, and maybe one day only in museums.

And in the end, these are I suppose just the ramblings of a wistful woman in my mid-thirties trying to keep hold of elements of my childhood as I watch my own kids grow up in the new age that has all its social media, selfie sticks and hoverboards.

So maybe it is time to put this memory back in its box. Although I do occasionally look to see if I can find Jason online. So I can have a good snoop.


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