I remember once, when I was a kid in the sixth grade, my teacher asked in anyone wanted to participate in a pen-pal program. Being naturally curious my hand shot up. A few weeks later I received a letter and a small address label with the name and address of a girl my age in Nybro, Sweden.
Her name was Carina Karlsson and for a few years we exchanged letters and small gifts. Our notes to each other we filled with the mundane (yet terribly fascinating) details of our lives. She sent me a small painted horse, a wooden flagpole with a Swedish flag, a leather coin purse and a photograph.
I can’t recall what gifts I sent to her (although I do remember shopping for at least one) but I still have all three that she sent to me almost 30 years later. Our letters were special to me. First because I got so little mail, and second because this was a connection that without effort on both of our parts would never have happened.
I was reminded of Carina yesterday while reading John Schwartz’s story on “Friendbombing” in the New York Times.
But Facebook’s use of the word “friend” is a little troubling in a world where true friendship is hard to find and even harder to sustain. The idea of getting friends wholesale seems to be part of that element of the Internet that can render life virtual and a little pallid. In many ways, the Internet strengthens relationships by allowing easy communication over a distance. But without a human touch, it’s hard to keep the conversation going beyond niceties. Facebook seems to be saying: “Sure, we might be seeing less of our real friends face to face. But we’ll make it up with volume.”
Technology allows “friendships” to be made so easily and effortlessly that I wondered if pen-pals even exist anymore. My search for “pen pal” online returned things very different from what Sister Marie Roberta had trotted out when I was a kid.
Maybe it is the nature of the communication, or maybe it is the fact that I’m not 12, but few of my emails or IM exchanges carry the same weight those letters did when they arrived at my home from half a world away.
[tags]pen pals, Carina Karlsson, Nybro, Sweden, Facebook, Friendbombing, John Schwartz, New York Times[/tags]