Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pen Pals of the Future




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.  

HELLO, Laura.  

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?  

2 comments:

Anna said...

You rock my socks!!!! I agree that there's something to be said about social media as the new way to get to know people. But as nerdy and old-fashioned that I am, I would have to agree with your teacher-self that it's important to teach people the art and power of letter-writing. We still send job inquiry letters. We still write business letters. We still write our grandparents letters. Why not send each other letters, too? Or emails? Sometimes it's a stretch to get complete sentences in emails that I receive now a-days.

When I was a kid, I had a penpal too, but she was way more into it than I was. She would send me origami cranes, those little fortune-teller paper thingys (you know what I'm talking about, right?) and hundreds of other little crafty things stuffed inside of an envelope. I would send a letter. Oops, missed the memo.

Laura Campbell said...

Thank you! My email writing improved during my first internship over the summer. I wrote emails for the English professor I worked with as he dictated. I'm still working on the balance between formal and informal. My sister, who lives 5 hours away in PIttsburgh, and I write back and forth to one another through email, especially when our schedules conflict and we can't talk on the phone.

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