The average teenager sends about 2,000 messages a month – and receives another 2,000. And that’s not even counting Tweets, Facebook posts and instant messages.
I’m not a teen, but I do text, Tweet and all that other social media stuff. I sometimes brag to my wife that I was texting before texting was cool, way back in the previous millennia. My friends would say, “Why text when you can simply call?” And I’d reply, “Just wait until 2014 and you’ll understand.”
I don’t have a teen but I do have a 6-year-old who enjoys texting whenever he can get his parents’ phones. I also have a sweet little girl who can’t text yet but is really good – for a 2-year-old, mind you – at just about any alphabet game on the iPhone. I’m sure she’ll be texting soon.
We live in a world of electronic infatuation and instant communication, and it sounds futile – backwards, really – to try any form of communication that doesn’t involve a keyboard or keypad.
Nevertheless, my oldest son and I often write letters.
What’s a “letter,” you say? Well, a long, long, long time ago, people wrote these things called “paragraphs,” using what was called a “pen,” and they’d “mail” their letter in an “envelope.” (Just look it up on Wikipedia.) It took about two days for a friend to receive it.
It eventually was dubbed “snail mail,” and it was wonderful in so many ways that a text just isn’t.
Why would I teach my son to write letters? Here’s three reasons:
1. It’s fun. Oh, sure, texting was fun, too, at first, but the newness soon wore off. To read a text today is like reading a business letter, with its formal-letter font and matter-of-fact, to-the-point style. We read it frantically, type a response frantically, and then don’t give it another thought. Writing and reading a letter is just the opposite. Each letter has style and personality, and each one is unique. It’s almost an art. Plus, it’s just neat to put that letter in a mailbox and imagine it travelling hundreds of miles cross country, in a truck … to another mailbox. The other day my son asked me excitedly, “Did I get any letters from my friends?” He’s never done that with a text. Opening a personal letter is like opening a little time capsule.
2. It’s educational. My son is 6 and is still learning to write and spell. Pencils and pens don’t come with autocorrect, of course, so every letter he writes can be a chore. But he gets faster with each one he writes, and he enjoys it. When you write a letter, you have to think and ask: What do I want to say? Often you’ll sit there for a few minutes, composing your thoughts, before the pen even touches the paper. And texting? Well, texting is kind of like getting a haircut with a weed eater. Half the words are misspelled and the punctuation is way off, but, hey, that emoticon will fix everything, right? There’s a reason we as a society don’t send get-well texts and condolence Tweets. We send cards and letters. A letter carries more emotional weight because it takes time, effort and thought. One time when I sat down with my son to write a letter, I asked him what he wanted to say to his friend. “Let’s ask her what her favorite color is,” he responded. Then he drew a picture of a dog. And an airplane. And some stick figures. You don’t get that in a text.
3. It’s slow. And that’s good. Living in an “instant” world has its benefits, but it also has many, many drawbacks. All that quick and instant stuff – instant messaging, instant potatoes, even instant on-demand movies – has given our society the patience of a 2-year-old. If it takes more than 60 seconds to do anything, then it’s all of a sudden taking “forever.” Our ancestors would have considered us nuts. The Bible addresses our crazy pace of life, telling us to “be still” (Psalm 46:10) in worshipping God and to enjoy a weekly day of rest. Of course, letter-writing isn’t a biblical command, but it’s a neat way my son and I have chosen to enjoy a peaceful, slower way of life from time to time.
So, get a pen and a piece of paper and put on your thinking cap. And turn off that smartphone.
Michael Foust is an editor and writer who blogs about parenting and fatherhood. He loves his family and also really likes popcorn. Interested in re-posting this in your publication or on your blog for free? Send me a message in the comments section below (the message won’t go public).