Friday, April 07, 2006

The internet generation goes retro

Yay. I got a new hobby for myself. Postcrossing. I heard about it quite some time ago, managed to forget all about it until a couple of my friends began talking about it. And yesterday I finally registered.

So what's it all about, then? Well, simple as this. You register, you get an address where you'll send a postcard and in return you get a card from someone from somewhere in the world. Repeat as often as you want - as long as you keep the cards going, you'll be getting them too. I've now got five cards waiting to be sent tomorrow, to Canada, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Wonder where I'll get my first cards from?

It'll be so much fun getting old-fashioned mail. In this era of lightning fast communications and easily deleted emails, a real postcard or a letter is just wonderful. It's something you can touch, you can see the touch of the sender in it and it's an actual piece of that other culture sent to you.

I love communicating with even my most distant friends via my blog and lj, emails or icq / messenger, but the magic of mail has not vanished. I remember clearly how much fun it was to receive and write letters when I was younger - and when there was no internet. Many of my friends remember how they also had bought international penpal addresses, just like I did. I remember getting my first English language penpals around the age of 9 or 10 or so, through a special organisation. I was in elementary school, and had only studied English for a couple of years. I think my first longtime penpals were from Australia, England and Germany. I also remember writing to a girl in Canada for quite a while, to a girl in the US for a shorter while and only a couple of letters to a boy in Egypt. I think I may have to try and find those old letters one of these days.

I recall the absolute excitement of ordering those addressess - you could wish for penpals in specific countries, I think my "cool countries" were (already back then) Australia, New Zealand, Egypt and Great Britain - and then waiting for the first letters to arrive. And the same goes with the letters that would come from friends in Finland. For years and years I, for example, exchanged letters with my dad's second cousin, who shared my enthusiasm for horses. She later owned quite a few horses herself and the letters would be full of news of their life (in addition to the other regular topics, such as school and boys, heh). And getting them was always a thrill. Oh, the days when the treasure chest that was the mailbox had several letters to offer on a single day. That was loads better than for example any normal Wednesday, when the Donald Duck mag came (I had to negotiate with my brother who'd get to read it first...) - and the mag was the highlight of many a week.

The most recent experiences with proper letters I have are from my exchange year. No internet back then, not that I was aware of it, anyway. And to avoid skyrocketing phonebills on both sides of the Atlantic, letters were the best way of communicating. Imagine how happy I was to receive thick envelopes full of news from home from mom&dad or my friends. A tiny bit of home brought to me by the kind postman.

What is it that makes the old-fashioned mail so enchanting? I think it has to be the time and effort put into it. It's so easy to just quickly type a short email to a friend that the trouble of writing a letter is somehow overwhelming.

First of all, there's the language. Whether it be in Finnish or English, letters (at least in my opinion) demand a little bit more from the writer. I may be an uptight Finnish teacher, but I've always preferred letters that are written properly. I don't mind grammatical errors and such in netspeak nowadays (my own email language is horrid at times, and I'm more than willing to admit it), but letters, that's a whole different matter. Or at least so it feels to me.

Perhaps it's just the way I'm "built" around language. Words are so powerful and even more so on paper. It's the reason it's extremely easy to impress me with smooth writing (if there are no mistakes in the Finnish compound nouns or punctuation in the writing, I'll probably have a positive attitude towards the writer) and equally easy to disappoint me with simple mistakes. I'm quite certain that I'd fall for a guy who could write me an old-fashioned love letter, with no grammar mistakes in it, written in a skillfull and witty style, combined with original thoughts. (Right, I'm not asking for much, am I?)

And in addition to the language, it's a question of taking the time and concentrating on something - the other person. It really makes a letter (or even a postcard) so much more personal. Especially a handwritten letter. The writer has taken the time out of his/her schedule to sit down and scribble a letter to you - how wonderful is that? There's no "cut and paste" -option, but only the writer's skill to plan his writing.

With emails the conversing is quite often fast enough to be just that - a conversation. We sit by our computers all the time, and immediate replies are easy to send (at best it's almost like using a messenger or something). And the conversational aspect of it is enhanced with quotations from previous emails and so on. It's easy to remind the recipient of their own words, when you can just "quote it inline" and write your comments in between. What else is it, if not a written conversation, with its more direct reactions and immediate responses? But when writing a letter, you have a blank page in front of you and you have to form your message so that it will remind the other person of the original question or thought and yet mainly concentrate on what you want to say about the matter.

Now that I think of this, perhaps in this lies a small fraction of a reason why the results of the Finnish exams are getting worse by the year. I've already seen the level of writing skills of the average senior high student, and I must say, it's not very impressive for the most part (however, there are always brilliant exceptions, fortunately). And when the most important writing skills that are practiced in school are different kinds of essays, in which it is often necessary to be able to parafrase a source's ideas in your own text, in your own words - perhaps my generation got more practice in it just by writing letters? Probably a far-fetched idea, but an idea nevertheless. I think I'll discuss this with mom later this weekend...

So, to sum it all up. I love the idea of getting postcards from around the world and letters, well, they have the magic. :)

Another new thing in my life. A very good CD of wonderful music. I bought the CD Mi sangre by Juanes - you may know the guy, looks like Antonio Banderas and sings the song "La camisa negra". This is my spring CD. I've listened to it several times in a row now and it brings a smile on my face and makes me want to take a few dance steps every once and a while. Perfect!

Now that I have spring music, I'd like to have spring, too. It's been a ridiculously cold and snowy (!) April so far. It snowed today, and there have been huge rags of sleet in the air several times this past two weeks. Icky. Luckily most of it melts away pretty soon, but the mere sight of fresh snow on the ground is so depressing at this point of the year. I want sunshine, pretty flowers and days when I don't have to wear my warm winter coat and my hat or my thick scarf anymore!

Or perhaps it's just Mother Nature's way of telling me to quickly finish up my knitting - I've got about three more sets of stripes to go before I'm done. Hmm. I'd better get knitting then, if that's what all this snow is about.


Jennifer said...

Awesome! Thanks for telling me about this!

Jennifer said...

PS - 2/3 of my postcards are going to funny is that? ;-)

Johanna said...

You're quite welcome. ;) There are a lot of Finns registered, as far as I've been able to tell. If you ever end up sending a card to "Yavanna" in Turku, that'll be me then. *grin*