December 29, 2013

COMMENTARY: Some friends just too special for Facebook, only real letters will do

Liz Soares

I’ve known my friend Carol since the eighth-grade in Massachusetts. We kept up our friendship through college and young adulthood, and even managed a few visits after I’d moved to Maine. Since then, we’ve communicated mostly by letter. We exchange missives in June, when we both celebrate our birthdays, and at Christmas.

This year, Carol wrote after her signature: “the only person still not on Facebook.”

That’s not true, of course. In fact, several of my closest friends aren’t “friends.” But although I enjoy social media (to a limited extent), I hope Carol never decides to join in. I fear it would mean the end of our letter writing, and the important tradition that it is to me.

What we would have to say in a Christmas letter, after we had publicly shared vacations taken, movies seen and books read, not just with each other but with 100 or so other pals? Carol is obviously a private person, so I won’t divulge the two interesting adventures she’s had since June. But they were definitely Facebook-worthy, and would have generated many comments. So I would have known about those, too.

My stories were mostly of the medical kind, as I had a run of misadventures in the last six months, all different and unrelated. I have not made much of them on Facebook, but I surely would have kept Carol up-to-date if we emailed each other. We don’t do that, either.

I did email her once at her workplace. My mother-in-law had died just before Christmas 2010, and I was having trouble motivating myself to carry out my holiday traditions. I knew Carol would worry if she didn’t get a letter from me, so I let her know it probably wouldn’t arrive until January.

Our old-school correspondence seems quaint, yet I was exchanging letters with a variety of people well into the 1990s. It wasn’t until email became ubiquitous — I’m thinking late ’90s — that I was left with only Carol. Interestingly, only one of my former correspondents has turned up on Facebook. Yes, we are friends.

Social media has its merits. It’s immediate, and it’s easy to post photos or links to interesting articles. The facile nature of Facebook and its ilk, however, allows for a great deal of frivolity, and, sometimes, ill-advised attempts at humor.

The time-honored practice of mothers everywhere to clip a humorous story from the Reader’s Digest and send it off to a child at college required that Mom read the story, cut it out, put it in an envelope, address and stamp it and send it off. If stamps were not at hand, it also would require a trip to the post office. Placing the letter into a mail box meant Mom actually would have to get up and walk to the corner.

Throughout this operation, Mom had plenty of time to consider whether Biff or Buffy would enjoy receiving the story. She instinctively knew whether it was appropriate for her child. As for Biff and Buffy, even if they thought the article was lame, they knew good old Mom had taken the time and effort to brighten their day. And that was their day, not the day of Mom’s 202 Facebook friends.

There is no comparing the thought that goes into a letter, whether written by hand or on a keyboard, with the linking of funny cat videos. I do enjoy funny cat videos and even post a few myself. The action is instantaneous and virtually thoughtless. Many of us probably have developed new neural pathways as a result: see funny cat video, hit Facebook “share” icon.

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