I came across a blank postcard the other day, turned it over a few times, and resolved to do something for the first time in many years.
It’s no big deal. I used to send these to friends and relatives regularly. It seems like just yesterday. Then again, much of my pre-Y2K life has given way to the realities of the modern world.
I used to write two-page letters (in cursive) to my brothers and high school buddies — beginning with the word “Dear.” That gave way to one-page emails in the late 1990s and somewhere in the early 2000s my communications shrunk to texting one liners and commenting on Facebook posts. I didn’t plan for the envelopes and “Forever stamps” to gather dust in the closet. It just happened.
No one deliberately plans to look at electronic devices for five hours a day. We don’t resolve to set aside book reading, board games or journaling. I doubt anyone consciously thought, “You know, family meals are just a waste of time. Let’s do away with that too.”
“We don’t resolve to set aside book reading, board games or journaling.”
And yet, here we are: less reading, more takeout and an embarrassing amount of screen time. In two short decades, modern American life has been transformed. Our children don’t know any different, but anyone over age 30 can remember a life untethered by digital technology.
If we didn’t answer the phone in 1998 it was because we weren’t home or we were busy with something important — like eating dinner or mowing the lawn. “Hi, this is the Smiths. We’re not in right now. Please leave a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” Remember that?
Kids used to play in the woods, build forts, ride bikes to the park and organize baseball or basketball games. When mom kicked everyone out of the house in the summer you could either sit bored in the driveway for hours or brainstorm a new competition. You might need to enlist a few siblings or knock on the neighbor’s door to see if anyone could come outside and “play,” but that’s how we built a sense of the neighborhood.
That world is not so distant as we might think. In the big scheme of things it was really only yesterday when kids drew pictures, dangled from rope swings, baited fishing hooks and played in tree forts. It wasn’t long ago that adults hosted game nights, had long talks on the phone and took Sunday drives. We could get back to that tomorrow if we wanted to — and truth be told many do.
“–it was really only yesterday when kids drew pictures, dangled from rope swings, baited fishing hooks and played in tree forts.”
We still know the difference between friends and “friending,” between heart-to-heart conversations and texting, between online video adventures and building a campfire. We know the difference because human nature does not change. It just seeks the path of least resistance. When fast food, high-speed internet and instant entertainment are available we indulge — and alas sometimes even binge.
There is no undoing the internet age but we must find a way to move forward without losing the profound delights of being human.
We might begin with a few simple, doable resolutions and build from there: silence the phone for a few hours, maybe turn it off; call up an old friend; join a book club; read “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “Lord of the Rings” to the kids at night; pull out the old Pictionary game; invite some dear friends over for dinner.
For my part, I took that postcard, stared at the blank white surface and tried to remember on what side the address went. I then wrote a few lines to a beloved relative, drove to the post office, bought an American flag stamp and dropped the note in the slot. It felt good. Like something worthwhile had just remerged from my not-so-distant past.