Penpals – Digitalized to be rediscovered!

Letters are probably the most graceful way of communication between people. It probably was the most common way of distant communication for more than 3000 years of our recorded history. Until very recently, letters were used by professionals and by common folks alike. You pick up a culture – Indian, English, American, Japanese etc. – all of them have a dedicated space for letter writing – often considered an art. However, mobile phones, instant messaging and e-mails changed the way in which communication was carried out between people forever. It is not that instant messaging is bad. It is better than what was, but certainly fails to have the element of gracefulness that was imbibed in the culture of letter writing.

However, until very recently, letters were also used for the tradition of penpals. Wikipedia defines penpals as – “Pen pals (or penpals, pen-pals, penfriends or pen friends) are people who regularly write to each other, particularly via postal mail. Pen pals are usually strangers whose relationship is based primarily, or even solely, on their exchange of letters. Occasionally pen pals may already have a relationship that is not regularly conducted in person.” And this was a very flourishing tradition between cultures. But of course, life becomes faster with technology and the social changes that come with it.

However, the ones who love and the ones who adore find more ways to hold on to things than the ways in which the others discard the same. There are several penpal clubs that run through magazines. But COVID has certainly put a halt on a large number of them. However, a better thing happened because of this – the innovation of digital letters. For instance, the 2019 Google Apps winner app Slowly built by a Hong Kong Based firm facilitates letter writing online. The time taken by a letter to reach the recipient is proportional to the distance the letter needs to travel geographically, essentially emulating a real-life letter experience. Several other websites that do not necessarily work on the letter based penpal format i.e. they work more like a chat between strangers erupted in market due to the pandemic. The most famous of them is perhaps Omegle which also offers face-time options.

While many may lament that the smell of paper and ink and the post man coming and delivering letters meant a lot to them, a reality is that our realities have changed. The present generation, mostly people born after 2004 might not have many recollections of letters at all in India- thanks to the massive cell-phone boom that has occurred since. However, letters are a good thing. Because the slow modality ensures that a person works upon his language and choice of words. If that isn’t training for soft skills and practicing writing, one may wonder what is. So, the author wishes the ones now planning to write to new people across the world, all the best!