Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Lost Art of Letter Reading

I was poking around the U.S. Census Bureau web site today, and noticed a August 14 announcement by the bureau that said, "Shortly after 2:29 p.m. EDT today, the U.S. population clock... will show there are 314,159,265 residents, or pi times 100 million... 'This is a once in a many generations event, so go out and celebrate this American pi,' said Census Bureau Chief Demographer Howard Hogan."

Today I also had a small amount of business to do at one of those endangered entities, a post office. I parked near another car, and inside the car sat a woman intently reading a long, handwritten letter. She must have just picked up some mail at her p.o. box, maybe something she was expecting and really wanted to read. Or maybe it was a surprise -- a letter from someone she hadn't seen in years.

How long will it be before no one sits in public reading freshly opened mail? Occasionally I saw that in college, people sitting on benches near the entrance of the campus p.o. with their mail from home or old friends. Visiting the post office was a daily thing for most people, me included, and pretty much everyone liked getting mail. The (lame) joke on my freshman hall that described getting no mail that day was, "I got air mail."

How long will it be before no one, while visiting far away countries, sits on a bench to rest and compose a post card or even a letter? I couldn't have been the only one to do that. The one I remember most fondly was a letter to a girl I'd recently met, which I wrote sitting on a bench on the terraced grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, with the summer sun above, a light but constant wind blowing, and a panoramic view of the palace below me. Who's going to ever be nostalgic about sitting around Schönbrunn sending text messages?

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