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Monday, February 22, 2010

Pen Pals and Chain Letters

Do you feel as hopelessly addicted to the information age as I sometimes do - that our favorite internet news sources and social network sites are updated on such a frenzied basis that if we don't check them every few minutes we fear we will be hopelessly left behind? It sometimes feels like I am trying to drink from a fire-hose.

That's the sort of mindless drift that I get myself into some days. On the good days, I'll rein myself in before I enter my office and sit down to my computer. Usually, I will only have to ask myself one of several questions:

"Does it really matter if I know the latest breaking news before I go out to mow the lawn?"

"Could the internet weather forecast have possibly changed in the last fifteen minutes when a look outside the window tells me 'no'?"

"Do I really need to see if there is an updated Facebook status for any of my 68 Facebook friends - especially when many of them seem as mindlessly hooked on minutiae as I am?"

"Keeping up" in this information age can be like trying to catch a tsunami in a teaspoon if we don't step back and put things into perspective.

Yesterday, when I reined myself short of another mindless hour on the computer, I remembered the Facebook alternatives of my childhood - Pen Pals and Chain Letters.

If you were a kid living in rural Nebraska and felt the need for companionship with someone your age, you could often find the name and address of a like-minded kid in the Pen Pal section of your local newspaper. If your Pen Pal interests went beyond the readership of the local newspaper, you could find similar names and addresses in the Weekly Reader, the wonderful little national newspaper for elementary school students. Once you had invested a three-cent stamp and had broken the ice, you often found a new friend.

I don't recall having a Pen Pal but I know that my sister(s) or perhaps a cousin corresponded for a while that way. If you grew up back then, perhaps you had a Pen Pal and some of you may have kept in touch for all these years.

When we lived on the Niobrara River and were far from civilization - no telephone and a sometimes radio - the Chain Letter box was the social network that kept my family in contact with our cousins in far off places. The idea was simple. All you needed was a carton large enough to hold the individual packets, a list of addresses, and enough egg money for postage.

When the battered, well-travelled carton arrived in the mail, it was filled with letters, photos, newspaper clippings, etc., in separate packets from everyone on the address list. After a few satisfying hours of reading aloud about the recent experiences of far-off family and enjoying the photos and news-clippings about births, marriages or other life-events, my parents found the packet of information that they had placed in the box possibly a year prior. Mom or Dad then replaced the old items with our recent family news, sealed up the carton and sent it to the next address on the enclosed address list.

It was a joyful time, possibly a year later, when the battered box once again arrived at our address on North Star Route, Long Pine, Nebraska.

I recall, as a child, a certain addiction to that chain-letter - much like the anticipation of Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus. That, though, was a healthy addiction, and one that had far more value and satisfaction than discovering that a Facebook friend has recently updated their minute-by-minute status to "I'm so bored with Olympic figure skating, I could puke."

Yes, good neighbors, there is an exciting life that we can all still find without the use of a GPS or computer. In fact, the only way to find it is to turn off those distractions and look around. There it is staring you in the face. It might be only a gecko on the window screen or new buds on the buckeye tree, but you won't see it if you don't take the time to look.

Now don't you wish you would have tried that prior to reading this blog entry?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm. I don't recall ever having this experience. I do recall post cards were important communication aids. "Breaking news" is such bad grammar that our teachers would never let us use such a phrase. Usually it is irrelevant and unimportant. I guess we have become addicted to media (TV or Computer) controling our lives.


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