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Saturday, April 13, 2024

EDITORIAL: Do Kids Today Even Know What a Pen Pal Is?


Oh, the sweet,‍ earnest days of being a kid, when​ a missive from a foreign country was⁤ enough to make your heart leap. When you could sit on your‍ porch, pen a note to someone across the globe, and form a bond despite the ‍miles and cultures that separated you.‌ Those were the ‌pen pal days — the days when a letter in the mailbox was a magical thing.

Now, I’m⁤ not ‍about to start some “back in my day” tirade about how we ⁤used to walk uphill both⁤ ways to school. But I am going to tell you this: Kids these days, they don’t know that feeling, that delight of finding a friend in⁤ a stranger through snail mail. They don’t understand the thrill of‌ pulling that envelope from the mailbox, feeling the grainy‍ texture of foreign postage, slicing the envelope open, and pulling out a message‌ from another youngster, alive in a land they might never set foot in.‍ Sharing‍ a slice of their life so different, yet so similar to your own. Do kids today even know what a pen pal is?

I, Brian McCarthy, a lifelong resident of Schenectady, am ‌a grumbler by‌ nature and profession. I have a five-decade-long record of grumbling that stretches back ‌to my elementary school days. I grumbled ‌about the first ⁣computers, grumbled about Reaganomics, grumbled about Netflix killing Blockbuster. And yes, I grumble even now about​ the disappearance of pen pals.

Now, look, I get it.​ Modern technology has ⁤opened up the world. Kids these days can FaceTime with friends across ‌the globe, share photos on Instagram within seconds, and collaborate on elaborate Minecraft ⁣worlds in ⁤real-time. ⁤It’s almost like having a pen​ pal from every corner of the planet.‌ But⁢ therein lies the loss. The 21st-century kid is⁢ engrossed in a perpetual exchange of fast-paced, face-to-face encounters. The wonder of writing and receiving letters, each a precious time capsule, has been utterly supplanted by the 24/7 constant connectivity.

When I was⁢ a kid, discovery was slow but⁤ sweeter, like a ripe pear ⁢falling from an august tree. My ​first pen pal was ‍a German ⁣lad named Klaus – we met through a school initiative. And though we never met in person, I experienced Jugendfeuerwehr drills,​ and Fasching festivals, and pocketed ⁢snippets of his village life in Bavaria. Every‍ month, I would sit eagerly, nib in ink,‌ jotting⁣ down my own American adventures to post across the Atlantic.⁤ In this lettered liaison, I glimpsed the wonder of the world from ​my humble one-story ranch in Schenectady. It’s a lesson I couldn’t have learned through any social⁣ media app ‍or over⁤ any high-speed fiber optic connection.

There is something lost when you replace the handwritten scrawl depicting adolescent adventures and experiences with emojis and acronyms.‌ The⁢ intimacy, the personality, the uniqueness of it, are ⁣swallowed up‍ in the digital age’s ‌immediacy‌ and‍ universal accessibility. Without a pen pal, you miss out on‍ imagining the exotic accent of every letter, or envisioning the town square, the narrow cobblestone ⁢streets and the friendly neighbors based on their descriptions in pen and ink.

The pen pal experience taught ​me life skills that I’ve carried well into these crow-footed, arthritic years. Patience, ⁤the ability to wait for a letter for weeks and ⁢sometimes‍ months;‌ the understanding and acceptance of​ different cultures and people; the art of crafting a personal narrative; enjoying the distraction-free process of letter writing ⁤and the joy of reading – how many of these virtues‌ do our kids carry in the daze of ‌screens and⁤ likes today?

In this tiresomely quick-paced world of ours, slowing down to appreciate the joy‌ of simple, ⁣heartfelt connections isn’t a bad idea. ‌To write ‌a letter, to wait for a reply, to build a bond the old-fashioned way — it’s⁢ a snail-paced joy that’s worth rediscovering.

There are still some websites out there that encourage⁣ kids to become pen pals. Teachers, parents, or if you’re a kid and happen to be reading this like I snuck my father’s ‌copies of the New York ⁢Post – I​ urge you to give it a try.

I can assure you, ‌getting that ⁤first letter in that mailbox will fill you with ‍a ‍kind of excitement that⁣ a Snapchat message or an Instagram like ‌can never replicate. I ⁤believe it’s a feeling worth​ experiencing at ⁣least once in ⁤a young life. In a world that screams​ to go faster, is it not worth the while to slow down, savor, and feel the distinct pleasure of receiving a handwritten letter from a friend – a pen pal

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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