Divya Ramesh | Pens are mightier than pixels

Through My Eyes | Once a month, resist the urge to email and write a letter instead

· November 28, 2012, 1:16 am

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Divya Ramesh
Through My Eyes

When I learned that Newsweek was set to go out of print by Dec. 31, I was crushed. I’m not an avid Newsweek reader, but I see the magazine’s decision to dedicate itself to the online sphere as a symptom of a larger problem.

Everything is becoming digital. Give it a few years and I’m afraid that I’ll not only see the entire world through my glasses, but also through a screen.

The price of postage stamps has increased from last year. But with Forever Stamps, which can be used regardless of the running postal rate, who keeps track?

USPS is downsizing to generate revenue.

Whenever I want to get in touch with family and friends, I’m faced with the same dilemma — should I use a free and instant email service or take the effort to purchase stationery, write a letter, stick a stamp and trudge to the mailbox to post the envelope? In our fast-paced world that values efficiency, the former option almost always prevails.

For the last 18 years, my grandparents have mailed a card to me on my birthday — it’s one piece of mail that I’m guaranteed. On my birthday this year, I rushed to the mailroom in the Quad only to find a flier advertising Tupperware in my mailbox.

I felt slightly sorry for myself. But then I realized: if I don’t have time to write more than an email, how can I expect other people to take the time to mail a card to me?

I later found out that my grandparents didn’t have my new address, but my point still stands.

Think about PennPals, a mentorship program at Penn similar to Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It pairs Penn students with kindergarten through fourth-grade students from Powel Elementary School, and its name is a pun on the idea of “pen pals.” This analogy, however, is largely lost among today’s digitally inclined elementary school children. To test out this theory, I asked my PennPal what he thought a “pen pal” was — nothing about letter writing even surfaced.

It’s a shame because pen pals across the world have developed sustained friendships through letter writing. Earlier this semester, I read about a pair of pen pals who arranged a face-to-face encounter after a 53-year correspondence. Eirwen Heath, who is from Wales, started writing to Susan Rowlands in Yorkshire, England, when Heath was only 12 years old.

This extraordinary meeting made me wonder how pen pals might evolve in future generations. Does our ability to “friend” and message random people on Facebook eliminate the need for pen pals? I think not — Facebook removes the sense of mystery and excitement that relies on our inability to put our pen pal’s name to a face.

Letter writing has a sense of permanence. I collect the cards and letters that my grandparents send every year for my birthday, even though the ink and the airmail stamps are fading. I still have goodbye letters that my fourth-grade classmates wrote to me when I moved from Ohio to New Jersey, even though the construction paper is ragged.

I can’t say I feel the same way toward the emails I receive. With Hotmail and Yahoo! offering automatic inbox-sweeping “wizards” that detect unnecessary clutter, the few heartfelt emails that I’ve received have disappeared into the abyss of my email account.

Nowadays, it’s easy to block senders, mark junk mail and delete correspondences — all it takes is a click. Even with a service like Gmail, where deleting is unnecessary, letters get lost amid Overstock.com’s holiday promotions. When friends switch internet providers or deactivate email addresses, years of correspondence disappear.

It is much harder to lose an actual letter.

So I propose a challenge: send one letter every month — to your grandmother or your best friend from high school who used to wish you Merry Christmas with a handmade card. Collect your letters, your responses, the envelopes and stamps. This project will bolster the postal system while brightening someone’s day.

These once-a-month letters will be your fighting chance against transience in the email age. By putting ink (or crayon and marker) to paper, our words will have more feeling, more emotion and more personality behind them than black, Times New Roman pixels on a screen ever could convey.

Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is divyaramesh20@gmail.com. “Through My Eyes” appears every other Wednesday. Follow her @DivyaRamesh11

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