Where Have All the Letters Gone?

By Petar Milošević (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

When is the last time you wrote a letter to a family member or loved one?

I’m not talking about email or text messages; digital communications do not count. I mean a letter on a piece of paper, placed in an envelope with a stamp, and mailed at a mailbox or post office; or in a very private way, lovingly slipped underneath someone’s door.

In the hurry-up, speak sparingly Twitter generation, there seems to be little value in penning an honest-to-goodness letter. Compared to instant communication, letter writing with an ink-filled pen seems agonizingly slow, sloppy and so twentieth century.

I recently opened a grey metal box that had lain dormant, ignored, for up to 50 years. It was a time capsule, holding remnants of this young man’s life in 1964 and before. In it were letters, letters my Dad had written to me during my college years.

My parents have been gone for many decades now and reading those letters after such a long time was a joy. Unlike emails and tweets, those letters told a story, a story of how my parents were reacting to and appreciating my newfound freedom and expressions of individuality.

My father, a physician who practiced medicine for 50 years, wrote words that are even deeper in meaning now than they seemed at the time. “We are glad that you seek the places that are apart, such as the mountains and the sea,” he wrote. “It is so easy to rush past the beauty and truth of life, especially in this age. An older and wiser one once said, ‘Let us not hurry, not worry, and let us take a moment now and then to smell the flowers along the way.’ “

And then there were the words I puzzled over briefly before realizing what it meant.  “Their being and meaning will never know the obsolescence of most of that which is taught.”

Frankly, that was a lesson that takes a lifetime to understand, for in time we come to know that many things we are taught while young will eventually be found wrong, or at least inaccurate. In other words, so-called truths change.

In 2064, fifty years from now, how will you or your descendants be reminded of things you said or things your parents and other loved ones thought way back in 2014? How will memories of 2014 be renewed?

Even now, the concept of writing love letters seems sweet but archaic to those in their twenties. So I wonder, will there be such a thing as love letters in the future?

Facebook posts certainly won’t be preserved for fifty years. In fact, both Facebook and Twitter will be long forgotten, replaced by more culturally relevant trends. And let’s face it, have you ever said anything on Facebook that deserves to be preserved for fifty years?

I suppose that as my father saw his time on earth becoming increasingly limited, he realized that time, the time to enjoy life, was a precious commodity, yet one not well appreciated until the sand in the clock is half run out. That is an important lesson that I, with my own sand ebbing away, have at last come to appreciate. But if I did not have my Father’s letter to read now, fifty years later, it would be a lesson long forgotten.

In a tweeting, Facebook society, how will we hold pages and memories in our hands when our parents and other loved ones are gone?

Sad to say, I don’t think we will.

Google Noodling and other Technological Pleasures

I am easily bored.

Fortunately, I’m also easily entertained. In fact I have no trouble at all entertaining myself, especially if it’s at the expense of new technology. Especially if the technology has big names attached to it like Facebook and Google.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love and use both Facebook and Google, a lot. But sometimes they just crack me up.

For example, there is a new Facebook app allowing you to leave a message behind after you die.

What a clever idea! No need for séances, or readings by psychic mediums. All you have to do is plan ahead for what you want to say, write it down, then tell your family and trusted friends to inform FB that you are indeed deceased. Voila, you get to have the final words, the last laugh, to have your say without being interrupted.

Of course, if your final thoughts as your life ebbs away are about changing your mind, or regretting what is about to be said, well, there’s simply nothing to be done. The cat will be out of the bag.

And you better not wake up in the morgue chiller if you’ve finally told the world what you think about your in-laws, or the wife, or your boss. You may not be technically dead anymore, but for all practical purposes, you are. Or you’ll wish you were.

But I can’t help thinking how much fun it would be to plan an after-life revenge on someone I consider despicable, but don’t wish physical harm on them. Let’s say their collected body of lies, fabrications and falsehoods have earned them a stint in Hell, but you’re not sure Hell really exists. Or perhaps you’re impatient.

Imagine then a Facebook farce where you reveal that you buried a  small fortune in gold, which is now worth a large fortune, at a vacant lot at some particular GPS coordinates. Of course, you’d not mention that the vacant  lot now had a McMansion built on it, by the very person from whom you seek after-life revenge.

Photo credit: hercules-online.com

Imagine the look on your archenemy’s face when people start gathering in front of his  home with GPS units, and backhoes. Do you think that would make him nervous?

I realize there are some logical inconsistencies with such a fabricated story, but I think you can count on the  ability of most people to dismiss logic if there is believed to be a fortune to  gain.

So thank-you Facebook; no more need for haunting and ectoplasm. Isn’t technology great?

The next technology that really is fun is Google’s screening of  any and all words in your Gmail. There is a way to play games with it —  I call it Google Noodling.

Photo credit http://www.catfishingtipstoday.com/catfish-noodling/

If you’re from the south you should know what noodling is. But if  you’re not, I’ll explain. Noodling is the reaching of bare hands into a catfish hole and hauling out a feisty catfish. It’s rough and tough fishing without a  pole, line, or hook. Your hand is the hook, and you hook the fish by feel through their mouth or gills. It’s a blood sport that Roman gladiators would  have enjoyed.

So, where does Google come in?

Both my wife and I have Gmail accounts, and I noticed when my wife  sent an email to me that there were certain subject relevant advertisements that accompanied that email. We all know by now, or should, that Google  computers read every word of our messages, and uses its proprietary algorithms to select ads that might be of interest to both sender and recipient. When one of those ads are clicked on, money goes into Google’s pocket. So much for privacy.

Enter into the mix my somewhat contrarian mind. I concocted an email from my wife to me, where the scenario is that I’m on travel and she is  complaining about certain female maladies that are irritating her. Well, faster than you can say itch, an ad popped up on the email after it was sent that offered over-the-counter antifungal remedies.

Well, since the ersatz wife had started a supposedly discrete discussion with her husband, I responded in a like manner, but of course with gender-appropriate words thrown in.

Bingo! Ads for things we commonly see on TV appeared in a flash.

Are we sure there is no panel of underpaid girls in Hong Kong intercepting our emails, laughing their butts off while pushing the Cialis ad button? I don’t know; I’m not convinced.

So I decided to run a test. Posing as my wife again, I concocted a fantastic email that combined a set of mixed-gender complaints, as if the person sending the email were a fully developed and functioning hermaphrodite. Then I hit the send button and waited for the first ads to show up. I checked my account — message received, but no ads. I checked her sent mail — message  sent, but no ads showing on the sent mail.

I had my hands in Google’s gills. Their snooping computers were mystified! How delicious, I thought; Google was stumped.

And then it happened. A few minutes later when I rechecked the sent mail it had an ad for a treatment for, of all things, constipation.

Google had the last laugh. Sure, their algorithms were getting ambiguous messages about gender, so the previously targeted ads could not be sent. But I hadn’t thought about the lowest common denominator among the sexes. And after spinning a few million compute cycles thinking, the Google computers decided on a sure course of action.

Those clever devils!

I suppose the message is, new technology is being spawned at a dizzying rate, designed to provide us “features” we never thought we needed, and to keep its inventors in the black, financially. But at the same time these innovations are fodder for the imaginative mind who sees the value in a good laugh. Count me in as one of those minds.