Pen Pals 2014

Back in the day, some people had things called “pen pals.” Remember that?

For those born post-2000, a pen pal was another human being somewhere else in the world who you likely never met in reality. It was the old way of making a friend with someone elsewhere in the world. You’d write a letter using a pen, send it in the mail, and then they’d send one back.

For those born post-2000, a letter is a piece of paper with words on it, containing a message. It’s like an e-mail, but written with a pen.

For those born post-2000, a pen is a small plastic cylinder filled with ink. It’s like a stylus, but with wet stuff inside. People used to scratch them across paper to create written communication.

For those born post-2000, writing is something they used to teach in schools around third grade. Before you were able to just scribble “chips” or “Jesus” or “asdfkojngse” on the electronic pin pad at Target, you actually had to know specific letters that represented your name, using something called “spelling,” which also used to be taught in schools.

Pen pals don’t really happen anymore. That’s antiquated friendship. We have no need for such things in 2014. Today, pretty much everyone is a pen pal. We talk via Facebook, Google Chat, Twitter, text messages, and 100 other Internetty mediums. We connect with people we haven’t physically seen in 10 years, and may still refer to them as a friend. Some of our friends are people we’ve never met.

Friends used to get group face-photos huddled around ice cream treats.
Friends used to get group face-photos huddled around ice cream treats.

As far as my world of friends go, there’s two lists. People I actually know and engage with in the real world on a regular basis, and people I know on the Internet – my “pen pals” of 2014. I’ll admit the latter list is much longer. Some examples previously mentioned on this site:

1. There’s Alyssa, who used to be on the Internet friend list and then decided to move 2500 miles and join the real-world list. She might regret that. I’m much worse at being a real-life friend. Fortunately I still have her mother on this list, and she sometimes sends me big boxes of fruit and the occasional t-shirt.

2. Charlotte, one of my favorite Internet friends, is doing her best to stay on the Internet friend list. We have a fantastic relationship where we equally love and despise each other at all times. She’s really fun, super smart, and generally great – and I want to punch her in the ear while holding a roll of nickels in my fist.

3. Jenny in Seattle is one of my best friends in the world. We’ve been hanging out since 2006 (longer than I’ve known most people at this point), ran a small business together, talk about drinking milk and Trent Reznor, and have never met. She’s capable of identifying most movies based on any two sentences from their DVD cover synopsis. Even really horrible stuff, like Passenger 57.

4. I’ve got associates like Anne, who I also consider a friend. She sends my babies presents and we text, which I’m pretty sure is 100% of the modern criteria for friendship. She’s also been the star of more posts on this blog than any other human, which has increased her widespread popularity almost as much as her own personal awesomeness, and that celebrity husband she has.

The idea of a pen pal used to be something neat. A cultural, almost educational experience. A connection with a different perspective. Now our lives are nothing but different perspectives. While I’m sure there are major psychological and social downsides to our strange, modern interactions with one another, I would wager there are equally beneficial arguments about the widespread diversity, opinions and lifestyles we’re exposed to all the time. Other places, people and cultures don’t hold the same mysticism as years ago because we see and interact with them all the time. And our concept of friendship is always evolving.

What’s my point? No clue. I was merely standing in my kitchen this morning, sipping on some black coffee in one of my favorite Batman mugs, thinking about the people I interact with. I realized there’s a good many people I would call my friend, but I could count on one hand the number of them I see in the physical realm more than once a year. I found it interesting, and I shared. Now I’ve shared, questioned, explained, qualified, and am still typing simply because I’m enjoying the fact that you’re stuck following through with this expository paragraph.

If you’re my friend, whether you’re a real-world person or a 2014 pen pal, thanks for being what you are to me. You’re neat.

If you’re not my friend, give it a try. In all likelihood it’s not going to be the most rewarding decision of your life, but I’m sure there’s worse decisions out there.

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