Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Paradoxes of This Project

This project may be about old-fashioned communication but, paradoxically, I'm certain I couldn't do it without the Internet.

Even without this blog--a fun 21st companion to a 19th century communication endeavor--I would find myself quite frequently on the Web.

Many whose names are in THE LETTER JAR are people I haven't seen or spoken to in a long time. I seek to reconnect with long-lost friends, teachers, bosses, employees--in short, people who have been moving around just like me. They might just not be living at the address I scribbled in a datebook in 1988.

That's when a solid Web search--Google Fu, as my husband calls it--has come in. Some people I have indeed located via Google, which has helpfully told me where a high school friend is now working as a city clerk and provided the name of the small town Iowa church where my college minister currently preaches. For other addresses--in cases where the name is fairly unique and I know at least the state, if not the city, where the person is living--I have been able to rely on whitepages.com.

This sleuthing does sometimes feel weird, as if somehow locating someone's address and sending something--even a well-intentioned letter--to it is a privacy violation. Another paradox--the lives of so many of my recipients are open books (or open "Facebooks," more accurately) online; why does depositing something in their actual mailbox feel so different from pinging their e-mail inbox?

Speaking of Facebook, this project may be my personal antidote to it, but the social media behemoth still has a role to play. There have been numerous people to whom I might not have thought to write--at least not immediately, anyway--were it not for them showing up as friends of friends on Facebook. And in some cases where I simply cannot figure out where to send a letter, I send the recipient a Facebook message: "Hey, I have something to send you snail mail ... can I have your address? I promise it's not a chain letter or candle catalog."

Though I've yet to have anyone turn me down, I'm still just as nervous about asking for addresses as that last line would imply. Again, here we all are, airing our laundry for the world to see online, but I wonder: is it OK to want to know where the underwear actually gets washed?

It makes me a little sad, to realize that "snail mail"--dowdy and slow, the Cinderella of the communication media--has seemingly been relegated to a status so inferior to its sophisticated electronic counterparts.  The U.S. Postal Service's plan to eliminate Saturday service seems only to seal the doom of pen-and-paper conversation, but I'm committed to doing my part to save the art of the handwritten letter. So are the folks at Good Mail Day, Missive Maven and A Passion for Letter Writing. Check 'em out.


The Missive Maven said...

Thank you for the link! I've just stumbled on to your blog from my own blog stats, and clearly people are visiting me from here. I shall certainly link your blog from mine - keep up the good work!

L, The Jar Keeper said...

You are so welcome! I first had the idea to start writing letters as I drove home from dinner one night with friends--I'm so thrilled there are others like me who want to save the art of the handwritten letter.