lost in technology: manual transmission

Births, weddings and funerals tend to be when the home phone rings most often, when the mailbox swells with congratulatory or sympathy cards. Yet when was the last time you received a phone call or handwritten card in the wake of a new joletterb or promotion, a positive doctor’s report, the start of summer? These and dozens of other of life’s joys to be celebrated and shared may be acknowledged with a quick text or email, but the personal touch beyond the screen and processor appears to have become as rare as rush-hour patience on I-95.

The ongoing wonders of technology aside, it can be all too easy to type keys and push buttons, to save the extra five or 10 minutes that a card would take to write (let alone mail) or a call to be spoken (let alone dial). But why? We relish going out to restaurants and breaking bread together. We enjoy watching movies together. We love traveling together. We eagerly anticipate spending the night together. The notion that we have largely become a society of isolation and solitude was absurd in light of the full restaurants, full movie theaters, full airplanes and full hotels before the current pandemic and what our planet hopes will be a full return to our previous lives. Then why is it so difficult to communicate on a regular basis—those beyond our immediate household—with the same kind of personal interaction and response?

Aaron Sachs, a professor of American studies and history at Cornell University, echoes many sociologists and historians when he observes, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.” Yet the happiness that causes an addressee to smile when seeing a handwritten card in the mailbox rather than yet another bill from the phone, electric and credit-card companies is palpable and engenders the kind of intimacy and care rarely possible with that thousandth email or this hundredth text. Likewise with a personal phone call without myriad agendas, the sole purpose of which is to share a few heartfelt moments of fellowship and friendship, of attachment and affection.

Take a moment to dial those numbers or write down those thoughts by hand. Transmit your feelings manually rather than electronically. Fulfillment on both sides of the stamp or receiver is rarely far behind.