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My close friend Pri texted me with reference to a message that I had sent to a common friend asking for something. Her text read, “Elite lady! Asking for snail mail instead of street address?” She was amused by my use of that terminology and added that it was a fancy term in lieu of postal location. Well, that sent me on a mission of Internet browsing (thanks to Wikipedia) to see when the term was first used.
The use of the term “snail mail” dates back all the way to 1942 when it featured in the headline of a news article that highlighted the extended time that mails took to arrive. The US Postal Service in the mid to late 60’s, while encouraging the use of zip codes in magazine advertising, also used that jargon “snail mail”. And along with other usages, there was that humorous scene in the 1981 animated television special “Strawberry Shortcake in Big Apple City” where the mail which had taken six weeks to reach Strawberry Shortcake is delivered by a snail who says, “Your snail mail is here.”
Unlike Generation Z relying solely on e-mails and text messages, I can fully comprehend the appropriate comparison of postal mail to the snail. When my husband and I landed in a new country for our graduate studies, making a phone call to family 10,000 miles away was rather expensive, costing close to $2. On a stringent student budget, making calls for a long duration was out of the question. The e-mail technology was also still at its infancy. So the only way for a lengthy communication through which we could be in touch with friends and family was by writing letters that took more than 2 weeks and sometimes even close to a month to reach the destination point. In eager anticipation, I too would wait to receive mail from the other side.
The scenario, however, has drastically changed over the years. With electronic communication governing our lives in the last decade and a half, there has been a total transformation. Technology has revolutionized the world to such an extent that personal letters that arrived through snail mail have come down to the bare minimum.
Time is scarce and precious in this rapidly changing planet. Even those who regularly wrote letters have resorted to making phone calls that have become much cheaper or sending e-mails and messages that reach the recipient in seconds. I do not even remember the last time I had gotten a letter from a close one. Barring the greeting cards in the holiday season and occasional invitations to formal events, the postman now mainly delivers official documents and bills.
Letter writing has reached a point where it has become almost obsolete. It is possible that the upcoming new generation of kids will find it hard to imagine that such a culture did exist among family members who were geographically located far from one another.
The awareness of the effectiveness of electronic media has spread overwhelmingly! A cousin’s 6-year-old asked her mother in complete innocence if Santa Claus had an e-mail address to which she could send her wish list. She reasoned out that a letter sent through postal service would take a very long time to reach the North Pole!
There is no denying the fact that the means to keep contact have become easier and cheaper, and are right at our finger tips. But a part of me yearns for the days when those personal jottings came through snail mail. I cherish those letters handwritten with love and care that took me through a mental journey of what was happening at the other end.
I’m still flooded with emotions when I read those pages that came from dear ones, preserved over the years. Each letter was unique in its own way; there was a personal touch with the individuality of the person emerging through the writings. Those scripts are timeless, and it’s a unique feeling to relive those moments over and over again and to connect with loved ones, an ecstasy that can’t possibly be evoked by an e-mail.
Japanese writer Haruki Murakami sums up the novel experience of writing a letter: “How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter! To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.” Sadly, there is just a handful who give voice to their thoughts by penning them down. Others fail to find time and resort to the smarter, quicker means of going the electronic way! But as archaic as it may sound, I still feel that the old is gold, and I sure miss my sweet mail that was once carried by the snail!
First published here.
Born in India, Rashmi Bora Das moved to the United States in the early nineties.
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