Maybe I'm behind the times, but up until recently most of my e-mail communications have centered on business. It was only recently that...

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Maybe I’m behind the times, but up until recently most of my e-mail communications have centered on business. It was only recently that I’ve used the new tool to seek out old friends.

I wrote about this once before (Jan. 8), lamenting the generally poor success rate.

Since then my luck has gotten a little better. A few weeks ago, I was lucky that an old friend wrote back. This has led to the reopening of a friendship, but I am forced to be careful.

I’m reminded of what another old friend taught me about fishing. That is, if you pull too hard on the line the fish will get away.

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Rudy Hopkins and I met in 1966 when he taught at my high school, and we developed a long-lasting friendship. This was based on letters, two or three a year, from gleeful to serious.

I regret now that I never kept any of his letters, or even had the foresight to keep copies of mine. I could make excuses, saying that back then we thought the world would explode, and surviving paper would barely tell the tale.

But the truth is, we weren’t thinking. We had no idea that the friendly, wacky missives would one day have historical value.

Today, we have no such worries. Those of us who have managed to avoid a bad crash may have years’ worth of communications, where every detail and nuance is immediately searchable.

Most of this stuff, however, lacks passion or the juice to mean something one day. Now that it’s easy to keep letters, they are hardly worth the effort.

Once I was sure Rudy wouldn’t be spooked (I did this mostly by waiting 10 days between messages) I asked him whether he still wrote letters, and what he thought of e-mail.

The answer was pretty typical for someone who got his first PC well after 1990 and still owns just one squeaky VCR.

Actually, he did surprise me when he said, “E-mail is wonderful! But it’s not a letter. Or not a good one. A letter implies more of a commitment, more depth, more intimacy. Besides, you can embellish letters (large letters, drawings, scribbles … ), which makes it all far more personal.

“Letters express so much through the handwriting. Is it hurried? Is it self-conscious? Is it relaxed? Handwriting tells us something about the ‘moment’ of the writer. E-mail has none of that subtlety. And letters are sexy. They can be colored, aromatic, shaped. I used to like to do collages within my letters — literally cutting out and recombining images.

“Letters entice you to include things. Pictures. I know, an e-mail can do that, but you don’t immediately have the picture in your hand. You have to work for it. The ‘letter pictures’ are a gift. And how about a pack of portulaca seeds to a city friend?

“Sprinkle these in the cracks of the sidewalk and see what happens.” An article from a magazine that was enlightening. Not a copy.”

He went on for a while. It’s not that he said anything I didn’t know already. E-mail may be easier to store and keep, but it hasn’t become any more tangible.

The need for speed still conquers all. So I probably won’t change my behavior. Letters are still an oddity. When I receive one I just toss it into a nearby box.

In the far-off future, the person who riffles through that box will learn a lot more than the one who scrutinizes the remains of my mail client.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.