Saturday, 3 August 2013

Out Of Touch: The Coldness Of Technology

I do not use Facebook and cannot understand the appeal that drives millions to obsess about it. Putting one's name on a commercial website? Allowing one's image and personal information to be distributed who knows where to do who knows what? And worst of all, calling complete strangers "friends"?

They are as much "friends" as a street corner huckster selling knockoff watches. Both misuse the word, devaluing it as they do. I only have friends online the same way I have family online: they were people I knew in person first, not "friended" on the internet. Unless I know them by voice, unless I have looked them in the eye, touched hands, I don't consider them friends. But this does not mean one cannot make true friends by correspondence.

In the 20th century, people who had never met became good friends as pen pals, sometimes travelling and meeting in person as adults. In the Victorian Era, people who never met fell in love and chose to marry based on introductions and the letters they wrote to each other. In both online communication and written letters, people were communicating by words and photos.

So why did true friendships and love happen only by written and typed letters? Was there something superior about the technology of pens and typewriter heads? Writing and mailing letters made it hard to say very much, made it longer to wait for a response. What made it so much more meaningful to them than online contacts do today?

It was the personal touch of such letters. The letters were handwritten or typewritten for one recipient, not mass produced for anonymous strangers.

An email in an inbox has all the charm, care and concern of a post-it left on the door. A Facebook page has all the depth of a printed statement from a bank. But a handwritten or typewritten letter is a personal message meant for only one person. It may not carry the warmth of a handshake or a hug, but it has the warmth of a hand on the shoulder, more than any of the others, and that is enough.

A typewriter may sometimes be slower to produce finished work and lack the ability to edit, but it offers the personal touch. When writing to people - to friends, to family, to business colleagues, to strangers - a typewritten letter stands out as a truly personal message. In a day and age when anyone can mass produce a perfect laser printed page, differentiating oneself by typing for a single recipient, will make one's writing more noticeable. Type your personal letters, the cover letters you put on your resume, court and legal documents, or any other page intended for an audience of one. I would not go so far as the French who still demand that all official business and government correspondence be handwritten, but a typewritten letter is much harder for a civilized recipient to ignore.

You are not out of touch with technology by using a typewriter. Those who use superficial and instant "communication" are out of touch with humanity.


This essay can also be read on Richard Polt's "Classic Typewriters Page".

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