Letters – a dying tradition

Matt Lee, owner of Manic Coffee

Back in the days before the Internet, people would pour their hearts out into letters word by word in their unique handwriting. Many people still keep letters they received for the sentimental values. But this kind of correspondence has slowly died away as the use of the Internet has increased.

“I don’t get a lot of letters anymore. I get a lot of e-mails,” says Lauren Mulkerns, a 21 year-old university student. “But e-mails are way shorter, and it’s colder.

“It’s much quicker to the point. With a letter, it really has to be well thought out. You can’t just start writing anything randomly because it won’t flow, it won’t make any sense.”

Gone are the days when we receive letters and cards in the mail. Today, all we have to do is turn on our computers, and voilà, that is where we socialize with our friends. The Internet has become a place for bloggers to speak their minds and a place for people to chat.

But while we are socializing via our computers, are we losing the traditional keepsakes that reveal emotions and sincerity? Are we talking to people behind a wall that keeps us all safe from expressing genuine emotions?

“We’re going for what’s simple and easy. I think we’re just getting lost in that, and its just making us even less and less able to communicate with each other on a social level,” Mulkerns says.

Different generations

The older generation is also going through many changes.

“I learned how to use the Internet six months ago. It’s new technology, I want to know something new and if I learn how to use the computer, I will have a new knowledge,” says Soon Pak, 60, a mother of three.

Pak feels a growing pressure and need to catch up with technology and keep up with the new generation.

“There is definitely a pressure on our generation. People keep telling me I need to learn. It’s very good to get involved. These days you have to learn how to use the computer. I took a course in school to learn,” Pak says.

Even after Pak learned how to use the Internet, she has not forgotten the old traditional form of communication.

“I still like to write letters. Through the Internet, it’s easier and it’s faster. But I like letters more because there’s more emotions in letters,” Pak says.

Jasmine Hung, 15, a high-school student, has been using the Internet since she was in Grade 4.

“I prefer e-mail. It’s better because you can just type. It’s better than writing because you don’t get tired. You can just send it in just one day. If you send a letter, it could take quite long,” Hung says.

Computers and the Internet are nothing new to the younger generation. Having grown up with all the technology in the society, they have become extremely comfortable with communicating over the Internet. To the newer generation, convenience and speed is key.

“I send and receive a lot of e-cards. I like it because you can tell your friends and family how you’re doing. You can put some graphics in there. It’s quite pretty,” says Hung. “It takes a long time to find a real card in the shops.”

Internet as a safety net

With Facebook, dating sites, and programs like MSN messenger where people can talk to their friends and family, the Internet seems to be a very socially active place for people.

Yet communicating on the Internet is very different from conversing face-to-face.

“I think speaking over the Internet is more comfortable, because when you’re shy, you can’t talk. Face-to-face is quite hard to speak to them when you’re scared,” Hung says.

“Unfortunately, I feel more comfortable talking to people over the Internet. Generally, I’m just a bit awkward, and when I’m in situations when I’m nervous, I can’t think that clearly,” says Mulkerns. “So at least when you’re on the Internet, you can hide that you’re thinking and all that, and you can portray what you’re not necessarily feeling.”

Mulkerns says that she thinks it is odd the way we go around things today. For example, when we order pizza, we do it online.

“I think it’s bizarre. It seems like we’re so afraid to expose ourselves in any way, shape or form. Like talking to somebody or doing an assignment online. It seems like we’re so afraid to get together, talk and show our personalities,” Mulkerns says.

Hung, on the other hand, says that the Internet helps with her communication with other people. She says that she often meets new friends online. She says that she does not think these relationships are as real or as strong as the friends she makes in person.

There are still people who do not completely rely on the Internet to shield their emotions, people like Pak who still enjoys the old-fashioned and straightforward way of communication.

“I think talking to people face-to-face is much easier. Sending e-mail, you send the letter and you have to wait for the answer. When you talk face-to-face, you get the answer right away. When you talk to someone, you hear their voice, you could catch their feelings,” says Pak.

The fundamentals are apparently still important to many of us today.

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Posted: Feb 10 2008 12:00 pm
Filed under: Features