Many if not most popular songs of my teen years were quite meaningless. Bebop a lou la. You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog. Tutti fruiti, all rooti. Saw Aunt Sally comin’ and ducked back in the alley. One for the money, two for the show, three to make ready, now, go cat go. Stay off of my blue suede shoes. You know what I mean. Many of the verses that did make sense and had at least some meaning come across as archaic today. For example, a lovely tune called “Little Things Mean a Lot” had the following heartfelt sentiment: “You send me a line a day when you are far away.” That means the loved one wrote postcards or jotted letters to the beloved when away on a trip.
I remember being glad for postcards and letters from friends and acquaintances. The mailperson was a very welcome visitor to our neighborhood because we looked forward to communication from the significant people in our lives. And, I remember the joy of receiving mail when I was serving overseas and the necessity I felt for writing letters home to family and friends. It was a reciprocal activity.
Is it that same joy in receiving and sending friendly communications that compels many of us to focus on our cell phones? I think it is, though with social media we find ourselves fascinated with notes from virtual strangers or people we do not know very well. The little device with its world of possibilities trumps interpersonal verbal communication in restaurants, in elevators, at public gatherings and even, I have noticed, at church. If we think about it, we would probably prefer a line a day when a friend is far away to the barrage of meaningless verbiage we often follow on our phones.
The wise old man once told me he proclaims a social media fast one day a week. He said the abstinence did not have to be on the same day every week, but for at least 24 hours a week he does not consult any electronic media at all. He feels he is a better person for it. He turns his phone off. Further, occasionally I receive a three- or four- page letter from him full of ideas stimulated by his reading. He reads a journal called Psychohistory; he reads Bergson in French; he studies contemporary issues in comparative religion. When I receive such an epistle, my head reels for days—he is like a logic compacter and it reconstitutes only with great turbulence in my gray matter.
But, back to my point. I will not say that contemporary written communication is bad—far from it. We should be glad people are exchanging ideas, however meager and ambiguous they may be. Obviously, the place to communicate a deeper awareness of being alive on the planet is in a longer form than a text message in more careful language. Letter writing is an art form. I sincerely hope we do not let it atrophy.