The Written Word

By the time I was in elementary school, most of my older siblings (there were eight) had already gone away to college or to jobs outside of the state. To stay in touch, we sent handwritten letters back and forth. The Internet and cell phones were nonexistent, and long-distance telephone calls were an expensive proposition. Writing letters was the way to go.

I remember my parents received quite a few. When a letter was delivered, it was always an exciting event. Toward the end of most notes, I would find my name and some paragraphs after that meant especially for me. You can only imagine how important that was, since during long periods of time their notes were the primary means of communication between my older siblings and me.

Today, handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past. While handwriting is still taught in school, young children are quickly adapting to text and e-mail.

The biggest issue I see with electronic communication is that it doesn’t stick around. You don’t print out a text and keep it in a shoebox to re-read years later. Technically, correspondence can and is being backed up to some hard drive, but in reality, is it easy to find that e-mail you received five years ago from your favorite aunt?

I wonder how history will look at the human race at this point in time, particularly if our electronic records do not survive. Will archaeologists see an absence of the written word in the early 21st century and wonder what happened? Will they be able to interpret history as clearly when personal notes among people don’t exist anymore?

In this issue we have published an article about a Union private named John Tidd who wrote to his friend Amelia Haskins of the trials and tribulations he experienced during the Civil War. His letters were discovered hidden in a house in Ithaca nearly 40 years ago, and were compiled into a recently published book called Dear Friend Amelia: The Civil War Letters of Private John Tidd. From reading these letters, we can learn much about that period of history. His words are uninhibited by political leanings and agendas. They are pure and truthful, and give us insight into what one young man saw and felt during those tumultuous years.

I don’t know if 150 years from now, someone will find a flash drive or hard disk with e-mails and texts on it sent from a private in Afghanistan to his sweetheart in America. They would certainly make for a good book, e-book or disk. Maybe good stories and heartfelt words will always be important. We’ll just communicate them in different ways.


by Mark Stash