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‘Write back soon’ (and other requests from the past)


October 19, 2016

When I went to college—oh so long ago—I recall waiting for the moment when the daily mail would be delivered. I could hear shuffling feet behind the wall of metal post-office style boxes in the mail room located in the dorm’s basement. I could even detect with razor accuracy when an actual letter was put into my box by the sound a weighted envelope makes as it slides. I loved the mail. I still do.

Letters are rare these days and so are phone calls, despite the fact that most everyone has a cell phone that they carry with them. My son Sam, a freshman student at Syracuse University, didn’t check his dorm mail box for a month. It turns out he had lost the combination for the lock. When he finally opened it, he had a month‘s worth of hometown newspapers jammed in there along with my old-fashioned hand-scrawled letters and notes (including “spending money”) from his grandmother. He didn’t even know that he was missing his mail. Plain and simple, I was horrified.

Sam’s preferred method of communicating with us has been through the Internet. We text frequently and he calls us using the Facebook Messenger video/chat app similar to Skype. (According to Craig Smith of DMR Statistics, there are now 900 million users of Facebook Messenger worldwide.)

Yes, we can see and hear each other, but the quality of image and volume is quite inconsistent and subject to all kinds of interruptions, like the time when I unwittingly turned the volume off on my daughter’s iPad. She had to rescue us that time.

John and I are often so excited and anxious to talk to our kid (and so out of our element on the Internet) that our conversations become disjointed and we interrupt each other a lot. For added entertainment, John and I bicker over who will hold the iPad. To further this cliché of confused old Mom and Dad, our daughter Lily is lurking in the background, huffing in her disgust over our lack of technological know-how. I feel as if I have entered a whole new world, and I never felt so old.

Strangely too, using Facebook allows me to notice when Sam is active on the Internet, almost serving as a tracking device. I remember going for weeks without talking to my parents when I was in college. And, while I admit that sometimes it is comforting to be assured of my son’s presence in the world, it is also a bit unsettling as well.