One disadvantage of technological advancement is that while it provides us with new innovations it also kills many previous innovations. Tape cassettes and the like are considered to be almost useless technologies as they are replaced with audio CDS, VCDS and other forms of disks such as fl ash disks. I sometimes tend to think that cell phone and the internet have killed the importance of letters. In other words, by today’s standards, letters may be considered the most backward means of communication. This is because when those whom we love are far away, wed can easily reach them with the help of these technologies and we feel that we do not need to waste our time writing letters.
Besides, the fact that for many of us it is easier to speak than to write simply because we are trained more to speak than to write in our lifetime further reinforces our inclination not to write letters. The cumulative effect of such a habit is that it seems nonsense to exchange letters even when the loved ones are in areas where it is hard to reach them with the help of either a cell phone or an e-mail. Is it fair to consider that letters are outdated means of communication? When I try to retrospectively remember what I used to feel when my faithful friends were sending me inspirational messages while I was in the military, it appears to me very hard to consider a letter backward means of communication. You can’t inspire people with the help of cell phones; you can only inform people with the help of these devices. I feel they are not meant for inspiration. I feel that many people are less inspirational when they use cell phones probably because that they are more likely to be stressed when they communicate with the help of cell phones, perhaps because they think in terms of their account balance.
The advantage of letters is that they can be documented unlike the case with other medium of communication. It is from letters that the biographies of people can be potentially enriched. We can easily see the relevance of letters in this case from the autobiographies and biographies we have read. Letters can potentially be the sources of primary data when we are engaged in research projects. For instance, I have come across one history book in which I could see that the important source in justifying or understanding the situation, among other things, were letters. That is, the letters the Italian governor in Eritrea used to exchange with his daughter were very useful for understanding the events of that day. This is because the person used to informally share (explicitly or implicitly) the problems he was facing with his daughter.
Here by letters I mean simple personal letters because it is personal letters that document unedited feelings and events. I feel events become tasteless when they are edited as is the case with business letters. What a friend, Sami, told me how much he is impressed when he reads the letters he has complied also signifies this. He told me how much he enjoyed reading the letters that were sent to him some years ago as they have documented important things in relation to what he and his peers faced in their past. Letters document feelings. I strongly feel that my friend will enjoy them more in the distant future than he enjoys them now. I tend to feel that what I used to share through the help of letters with friends was much better than the instant and email messages we often exchange with the help of the internet technology.
Some of such messages are really so trash and trivial. Hopefully not in the distant future, there will be series of comprehensive discussions about this in coming issues of this column. As people witness it from experience, letters are more important if you receive them at Sawa than all other circumstances as far as our experience in Eritrea is concerned. When it comes to Sawa, what makes you happy is no the message you get in the letters. But the fact that letters are sent to you is of great value as it is psychologically healing. The fact you just receive a letter makes you happy and enthusiastic. Actually, when I was in Barentu (physically distant from friends), the letters that were sent from my friends were heartening enough for me to be more inspired and they enabled me to be emotionally connected with them. So it must be true that letters are very useful and source of inspiration for everybody and in all circumstances when one is far away from his or her loved ones.
When we consider the mindset of people in such circumstances sending letters and occasional postcards significantly influences their morale. Hence, we should not be much obsessed with material things that can potentially make our children at Sawa happy. We tend to forget to treat them psychologically. From my experience and from the experience others share with me, I sometimes I feel the need to properly orient the parents (family members at large) in this case. I my self know what letters mean when a loved one is at Sawa or generally when one is away from the loved ones.
However, I was not able to send letters to my brother as it should have been. It has been a long time since I sent a letter that was written while I was in a hurry. That is when I felt guilt because of this that I was inspired to share my feelings – which means it is my weakness that has inspired me to come up with this article. Further, some of us (in Eritrea) are not in the habit of sending postcards even though this has improved today. Sometimes we fail to properly understand the usefulness of such micro things which have macro benefits in heartening people. We need to note the norms and life orientation we have and the life orientation our children (brothers and sisters for some of us) have are different. Undeniably, we and our children (our little brothers and sisters for some) do have different perspectives.
Sometimes it is good to see things in their eyes and judge the impact of what has to be done accordingly. Being able to see things the way our kids see them can enable us not to be heedless when we deal with them. The month is a time when people extensively wish the best things for others. What does this mean for us? Is this a habeshan culture to exchange postcards? Can we tell which is habeshan or western culture these days – taking into account the nature of the continuously changing or globalizing world? Due the fast exchange of information, what is innovated or created anywhere easily and quickly becomes a global resource. Values are being instilled in the hearts and minds of all global citizens through different media or channel because the globe has been with no fence, especially after the advent of the internet technology.
So sometimes it would be good to be aware of the common global culture. The young are close to the new aspects of the global culture. In fact, on this case the problem is that the parents are much more influenced in their upbringing by the traditional culture and norms of their communities but the young generations are much more influenced by the global culture – western culture would be more appropriate in this case simply because it is the westerners that are in a better position to sell their ideas through the virtues of modern technology. In sum, in many respects, many of us, parents and senior bothers who are not part of those the time episode of the young generation, may possibly fail to properly address their needs.
Those who grew up in the confines of traditional culture and those who are growing up in the information era which is characterized by a widely shared global culture are likely to have differing concerns; such categories of people are likely to have considerably different world views. To this degree, many individuals may tend to consider the importance of sending postcards and letters may not be that significant. The fact that we (e.g. parents and their children) are from different time episodes matters a lot in understanding each other. That is why there are generational gaps both at society as well as family levels. Such generational gaps are potential sources of conflict. If sending letters was a source of inspiration for me while I was a university graduate when I was at Sawa, can you imagine how heartening it could be for the educationally junior ones?