Communication Technology Only Adds to Backlog of Unanswered Letters

Article excerpt

Byline: Shelley Carlson

I could be at serious risk of being apprehended by the cliche police, but I can't help observing that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Well, maybe not exactly the same, but pretty darn similar.

Once upon a time, not really all that long ago, I remember having a drawer where I filed all my correspondence. I tried to ignore it until it piled up, and either I answered the letters or my friends erased me from their address books, concluding I had ascended to the big Dead Letter Office in the sky.

Inevitably, when my to-be-answered file began to overflow its confines, I dashed off missives to those dear friends I would hate to lose.

The trouble was that some of those cherished pen pals must have had way too much time on their hands, because they sat right down and answered my answer and almost before I had time to pat myself on the back. Their responses were in my mailbox and my letter file again was building up to the reproachable point.

Even with this - to my procrastinating mind - overzealous approach to friendly correspondence, there was a somewhat reasonable turnaround time.

Unfortunately, like so many things, I never appreciated that while I could.

Because now we have the wonderful world of e-mail.

And while I would be the first to claim that I would never want to give up its benefits, this form of communication is somewhat of a mixed blessing.

Most of my kids live across the country from me; my youngest daughter lives in South America in a fairly remote area.

Letters took at least two weeks to reach her and even if she answered them immediately, it was another two weeks for it to get back to me.

Technology has made it possible for us to have virtual conversations via e-mail.

If there is something I need answered, I don't have to wait a month.

My memory being almost an oxymoron, by that time I probably would've forgotten the question.

Of course, being able to keep up with all the far-flung grandchildren is, as the TV commercial says, priceless.

I never literally "write" letters anymore.

I quite possibly may have forgotten how to write on paper with an actual pen.

If I have any friends left who aren't online, they probably assume I'm dead.

But just as the paper file of letters could sometimes be a pain, the buildup of unanswered e-mails also can be a downer.

My electronic desktop is so littered with them, it could be mistaken for an unusual, albeit messy, screensaver.

While the almost instantaneous turnaround can be gratifying, it also has a downside.

I always could opt to not go near my old paper file of letters, thus avoiding the guilt of its reproach.

But if I need to go online for any reason, I can't ignore all those judgmental e-mails staring at me. …