The Urge to Write a Letter

I have suddenly gotten this urge to write a letter. Maybe not just a letter, but many letters. I want to keep in touch with old friends; with acquaintances. Today an old friend, W called me up; unfortunately I wasn’t there to pick up his phone, but nevertheless we managed to exchange a few text-messages. It was strange communicating to him — he did not really feel like an old friend, and was more of a stranger really — I mean, I haven’t talked to him, nor seen him, for almost 5 years!

How wonderful, I thought, if we had communicated through these past years, perhaps through the mail, or e-mail or something. Then maybe we wouldn’t be such strangers? Then perhaps I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I was genuinely interested in catching up face-to-face?

But alas, it is not so. I had tried to communicate through these years (without meeting personally) with a certain R, only for things to go quite awry, almost to the point of emnity (again, my brashness in writing could have played a rather big hand in this estrangement).

Of course, I understand that even a lot of communication via e-mail or mail still does have its limits. Take for example my relatives living in England. When they come to visit, even though we communicate often via mail, we still take time to adjust to each other during visits; the awkwardness simply doesn’t disappear even with frequent long-distance communication.

Pleasureable Writing

One thing though that prevents me from actually communicated frequently with people via e-mail (or mail) is simply that many people (in Singapore at least) simply hate writing. They associate writing with the pain of examinations or tests or of work. Writing for pleasure is a shadowy concept that people here simply cannot comprehend.

Thus, should I write to an unsuspecting friend of mine, he or she might well curse me for creating the need for an obligatory write back. He or she will have to “make time” for this “chore”, thinking about what to say, thinking about how to say what they want to say. And it doesn’t help either that the mother-tongue (mandarin) of most of my friends is considerably stronger than their English, which is, technically speaking, my mother-tongue, and my stronger language.

Electronic Communication

And then there comes the problem with electronic communication. Although largely an I.T. student, and a lover of all things I.T., I have not quite accepted eletronic communication as a good inter-personal communication medium. The coldness of a computer, the lack of touching something the other party had touched (ooh, I love the scent of sweaty hands) is something that alienates a person from the message he or she is trying to send.

You cannot see the handwriting, thus you cannot judge the force with which a certain writer is writing the letter. You cannot see the stretch marks created by tear-drops on paper. You cannot smell the scented paper, so carefully chosen for a special person. What you see are words, words on a screen, giving you dull, black-and-white facts.

The worst thing about eletronic communication is its cost: its free. Think about it: if a person wrote to you via snail-mail (the traditional form of letter-writing, you know, pen and paper, post-office etc,) would you write back via e-mail? Of course not. You’d want to write back via snail-mail — it’s only basic courtesy; he or she paid good money for that paper and envelope, not to mention the stamps, and the trip down to the post-office. This person didn’t just sit at a computer, and suddenly out of boredom decided to open Outlook and type a letter out.

Taking the Trouble

This person decied that he or she wanted to write to you. Then did something about it. Labourously looking for a piece of paper, an envelope, and stamps in a dusty drawer, then taking out a pen (something some of us computer-inclined people have forgotten how to use) sat down and wrote the letter. Would you write an e-mail back? No! Or, if you’re even thinking about it, don’t!

But that brings us to another dilema. Should we write a letter to another person via snail-mail? We wouldn’t want to make him or her obligated to write back via snail-mail. We actually wouldn’t mind an e-mail back, so long as it was well thought out, or at least comprehensible.

And since e-mail is free, wouldn’t it make more economic sense to e-mail? And surely since its free, and you’d want the best for your friend as well, you decide that if he or she is going to be obligated to write back, we will at least play nice and let him or her write back without paying a cent.

A Problem with Instancy

I’ve got a problem with instant communication. I simply have no idea how quickly I am supposed to get back to a person. Take for example this afternoon when my friend text-messaged me. His message was something like “how are ya?” that sort of thing. So I reply within a minute. Then his reply comes the next minute. Then my reply again within one minute. When does it stop?!

It’s almost as if a whole telephone conversation would be text-messaged across. And then suddenly you wait one minute, two, then three, then ten, then half-an-hour and there’s no reply. You read back the last message, and you realise: ‘hey, come to think of it, that message might have meant that “okay, get back to you some other time dude”‘. But you don’t really know. So you wait a while longer by your phone, till you’re really sure.

With e-mail, I normally write quite a bit. This quite a bit normally covers what I’ve got to say for perhaps a week, maybe two. When I click send, perhaps conditioned to snail-mail, I do not expect a reply all that soon. So when I do get a reply almost instantaneously, with someone replying my two week’s worth of blabber with two lines of words…

Quick, write to me

When replies come too fast, maybe within a day or two, you wonder whether to reciprocate the quick response with another quick response. If you do, that means that the conversation between each e-mail start to get thinner and thinner. Eventually, you run out of things to say, and you simply stop writing.

If you decide to play the waiting game, and wait a while before you reply, it might come across as rather rude: “I am not worth a quick reply? You jerk. I took time away from my work to reply you so quick and you take your time to reply me. We’ll see about that.”

I think I need more practice on e-mailing.

Oh boy, who shall I write to today?

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