The world went into meltdown last week when the twin pillars of the social media world, Facebook and Instagram, crashed.
Technical problems meant that for more than five hours we had no idea what was happening in other people’s lives. It made me realise that often the only way you know what friends, or even relatives, are up to is by going online.
It makes me long for the days when we shared our news; our triumphs and heartbreaks, by writing a letter. So old-school, but so much more private and personal than a Facebook post could ever be.
There was a piece on the radio the other day with contributors reading out letters of advice they’d written to their offspring as they set off to start university.
One mum had written a particularly moving missive to her daughter offering funny and loving words of wisdom. Change your sheets once a week, never go to bed without taking off your make-up, work hard and always, always live life to the full.
That young woman will maybe stumble upon that letter one day in the future, clearing out a loft or drawer perhaps, and be taken right back to those first heady days of freedom and realise how much her mum must have worried about her.
It inspired me to root out the piles of letters I’ve received over the years. And, goodness, in those dusty boxes I found a treasure trove of precious memories.
Letters from friends over the decades, from uncles and aunts, ex-boyfriends, my siblings and the sweetest ones from my daughters when they were little.
In one, an old family friend writes about the swallows coming back to his porch with the arrival of spring in rural Northumberland and I can picture the scene so vividly.
There are crumpled envelopes with handwritten pages from friends all over the world, as we sated our wanderlust in our twenties. “With our rucksacks on our backs, we’re searching out remote beach huts, strong grass, good times,” read one postmarked India.
And there were some hilarious ones from my big sister recounting her adventures travelling around Australia. Just words on a page, but I could practically smell the ocean scenes she was describing and sense the excitement she was feeling.
It was the letters from my now elderly parents, though, that had the most profound effect on me. They were a reminder of how they used to be, clearer than any photograph could possibly be.
Here was my dad updating me on the small details of their lives, offering practical advice and nagging me to get a pension, all with the flashes of humour that made me smile, then and now. And suddenly the years were falling away.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg apologised to the site’s 3.5 billion users after the service went down. “I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about,” he said.
Well here’s a thought, we can stay connected without these social media giants. Let’s just start writing letters again. Because can there be anything more joyful than finding a handwritten letter from someone you love amongst the piles of junkmail and bills? I don’t think so.
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