Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another angle on e-friends

Since the 1950s, when we took a series of courses together in university, I have seen my friend P. only once, when, c. 1990, I was driving through his town and (in the absence of a telephone in his house) dropped by utterly unexpected; we went out to get some supper.  We knew each other, however, very well, having corresponded in pen and ink on paper since we both left the university.  We had in common tastes in books and music coinciding just enough for correspondence, and we both cared for painting and photography.  Now, with a few interruptions, we have corresponded for half a century; he still has no phone and now no e-mail, either.  We also sometimes exchange books and recordings, but letter writing (he tolerates my print-out, since my handwriting is not what it once was, but everything goes USPS) is the continuous, evolving basis of our friendship.
So far as I understand, it is not my having once known him in person, with his voice and fleeting facial expressions, since it was never a fleshy friendship (it just wasn't), or our friendship being much older than e-mail, since some of my e-mail friends are of more than a decade's duration, but the usual fortnight's delay between sending and response that distinguishes this friendship from those based wholly on e-mail.  Telephoning might have altered, might have spoiled, the friendship; I have a phone, but I value it not for personal communication (things tend to go wrong and be hard to correct) but for 'c0ntact' (one is held up, will be late; one will not be home next week, etc.), and he has never had a phone.  I do, most whole-heartedly, love the instantaneity of e-mail, but my old letter-mail friendship can survive without it.  We can exchange snapshots just as well either way.
Persons on TV keep saying that electronic friendships are not personal, not real (true, not literally real, but actual), are the friendships of persons who cringe, who misrepresent themselves, who fear the truly personal.  Putting aside the ancient source of 'personal', from the word for a mask worn by the actors, the dramatis personae, which is not wholly its current meaning (though 'personality' may be put on), consider that there is more to a person than what you can hear and touch and smell and caress.  The latter aspect, of course, can be essential, to part of a marriage or other partnership, but also critical to a divorce.  Besides, not everyone that is different is sick or defective.
E-mail, I often think, was made for me.  I like to reconsider what I have written, whether I may have been malapropos or committed a blooper or left out a phrase that was in my mind but had not made it into text.  Many of my correspondents have English as a second language, and their first language is my second or third: have I expressed anything so that it demands my own dialect of U.S. English or is liable to go wrong in translation?  I could never handle the telephone in other languages and manage to say anything worthwhile.  In e-mail we all manage very well, not only for intellectual ideas but even for sympathetic insight.  For the latter, we can put something differently, in case that will help.  In case of personal loss, for example, it won't do to be unintentionally ludicrous, if one can avoid it.
And, of course, the Attachment works magic, both with one's own photos and with things one has seen and wants to share.
The result, after a few years, is a very well based empathy and familiarity.
With my own surviving sister, even after all these years, and despite the wonderful familiarity of her speech inflections and all, a gulf of unshared tastes and inner experience remains.  Why do some people write letters that are just like the omnibus ones that tend to come in Xmas cards?  Why do they never acknowledge whatever one tries to give of oneself or write anything unsuitable for that omnibus letter?  Why do they write Love at the end but never put any into what they write?  Why does one have a sister that loves the telephone, instead?
In fact, one needs letter writing, and e-mail has all of its advantages without the too-long delay.  E-friends are perhaps for many of us, even if we cannot maintain the consistently high level of the great literary letter writers, essential to the intellectual and inward parts of the personal.
I am trying to find out what the advantage of a blog may be, when it is not political and certainly not argumentative.  If anyone wants to read these, fine.  In the course of writing them, I may manage to make myself clearer even to myself.  Not that I expect to write anything that is not commonplace, but if, gradually, I can do that, is it useless?