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Sending history into cyberspace?

April 26, 2012 - Jodelle Greiner
Are we sending our history into cyberspace?

A recent Dear Annie letter mourned that handwritten thank you notes were a lost art, thanks to e-mail. That got me to thinking about World War II love letters and Civil War letters sent back home.

In the past, people sat down and wrote real words on real paper and sent them. The recipient could hold that letter in their hands and take it out and read it any time they wanted to. Those letters became family heirlooms and a way to track family members across the generations. Many of those letters were saved and tied together with a ribbon for safe keeping, taken out and read periodically. They could remind a couple of why they fell in love or help a family recall a loved one who never made it home.

In modern times, we can look back at the Civil War and WWII letters and get a glimpse into the way they thought and talked back then. We can get a clearer picture of what life was like for those generations.

People still correspond with each other but it’s totally different. Not only has the method changed — e-mail from snail mail — but our “letters” are shorter, more abrupt, less detailed and eloquent, in my opinion. Almost like shorthand or code, as opposed to a flowing discussion that paints a picture.

Don’t get me wrong, I really do like having e-mail. It makes it so much easier to keep in touch with out-of-state friends, and even in-state people I don’t get to see very often. I can send a message instantly and get one back in much less time — and less expense — than by snail mail. But it makes me wonder.

How much history are we losing by sending all our correspondence to the cloud? We’ve all heard the horror stories of parents who kept all their kids’ pictures on the computer and the computer crashed. It’s harder to lose all your e-mail letters, but not impossible.

And what impression of our way of life will we be leaving for future generations? What will those who come after us be able to glean from the meager information we leave behind? What wisdom will we leave them?


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