Pen pals. People you’ve never met in person. Living in different states and towns. You write back and forth sharing details of your life. I still have the picture and letters from my pen pal from elementary school. She lived in California. Her name has faded from memory and the pack of letters is hiding in a box somewhere, but the experience has stayed with me for 19 years.
While I was teaching middle school English, I realized my students didn’t have a clue about writing a letter. How could this be possible? Students were guided through the education system, graduating with less knowledge than I had when I was 11-years-old. This could be a teachable moment. Through a pen pal project my students would learn the proper letter format and conversational skills to keep their pal interested.
Then the light bulb turned on. Children—digital natives—have grown up immersed in technology. Text messages, Facebook status updates and Twitter’s 140-character limit has created short, condensed dialogue. There’s no need for handwritten drawn out conversations when the information is transmitted with a simple click of the ‘send’ button. What’s the point in addressing the message with “Dear Sally,” when it's sent directly to the person of choice? My teachable moment was thrown off the table.
My thoughts shuffled around. I’m an inquisitive chatterbox. Listening to people’s stories, getting the inside dish on what’s happening in their life and offering advice when they need an encouraging word puts a smile on my face. I wanted to get to know someone again through letter writing even if it wouldn't work with my students.
You are getting to know people, just not the traditional way. Social media and the blogosphere have put me in touch with hundreds of people who share my love for reading and writing.
All the effort put into directing traffic to my blog has introduced me to so many other writers living in various locales. Amie Kaufman, a writer living in Australia. Anna Saikin, a graduate student living in Texas. Janet Reid, literary agent in NYC, posts tidbits that make her laugh and smile, showing us writers that she is just as human as us. Getting to know them and many others through their writing and daily topics on their blogs keeps away the loneliness from working alone all day long. It's also nice sharing a common bond with someone when most of my face-to-face friends couldn't care less about my writing or what I might be reading.
Apparently, I’m slow on the uptake with dozens of websites devoted to E-pals all over the Internet. Clearly, I’m no digital native. But I’m glad I’ve realized blogging and social media is more than just a marketing tool. The best part? I don't have to wait weeks to hear back from my writing pals. Enjoying yourself while you work is one of the great pleasures in life.
What perks have you gleaned from blogging and social media?