For all of my adult life, I have been good at keeping in touch with people. Whether it was with school-friends, former colleagues, or friends and family, I always managed to do my best to ensure that I knew how they were, and to tell them any news about my own life, and what I was up to. As we get older, are married, and move around the country, it gets harder to keep this up. Lives and priorities change; children arrive for some, others have issues with busy jobs. Many people just don’t see the point of what they consider to be meaningless communication, with former acquaintances that they hardly ever see.
This also happens in families, however close they once might have been. They tend to congregate at funerals and weddings, travelling from various parts of the country, for a shared purpose. I have often heard mention of the fact that we only ever seem to meet at funerals, and should try to do something pleasant, and see more of each other. We have all said it perhaps, and most have had it said to them at some time. It doesn’t happen though. Life takes over. Some, like myself, move to places that are too far away, and involve planning to get to. Others move to countries on the other side of the world, like Canada or Australia, with us all knowing that we are unlikely to ever meet again.
Before the age of the text message, and the arrival of electronic e-mails, I used to write letters frequently, although I rarely got replies. The standard method of communication remained the Christmas Card. You might resign yourself to not seeing those concerned, and might also have accepted the fact that you will not get letters, and rarely speak on the telephone. But every year, between the end of November, and the 24th December, contact was restored, by the arrival of those simple colourful cards. They might contain some news written on the blank side, or have a personal letter inserted within. Sometimes, there were photos, of new children, new homes, or smiling family groups. The names of partners might have changed, different careers had been embarked upon, and sons remembered as small boys had become soldiers, or were going to university. Once irresistibly cute young daughters were now mothers themselves, or proudly clutching degrees. This annual deluge of good wishes, and much-anticipated news was always something to anticipate with great pleasure. If I heard nothing at all from someone all year, and might have feared the worst as a result, the comforting card full of news and cheer re-established that much needed contact, and made me feel as if the links of the chain that was my life were once again joined. I always made sure that I sent my own cards too, imparting the news of what was going on, in my often turbulent life. I usually had a change of address to inform of too, and I generally had my own address book ready as I opened my cards, to alter the constantly changing details of the correspondents.
As modern technology became widely accepted, I started to notice a worrying new trend. Generic text messages appeared, wishing compliments of the season from so-and-so and their partner. This was all very well, but failed to supply me with any news. What about their family? Were they still at the same address, working in the same jobs? Were they both healthy and happy? I couldn’t possibly hope to glean anything from a message that read simply ‘Happy Christmas.’ This got worse, once more and more people embraced e-mail, and owned computers. They began to send a short seasonal e-mail, to everyone in their address book, offering greetings for the festivities. Rarely was any extra information added, and I was still left none the wiser. I don’t know about you, but that is far from my definition of ‘keeping in touch.’ These developed into the more elaborate E-Cards. They might have a timely picture, with a snowy background, or even take the form of a short video. But they were commercial products, lacking any personal touch, leaving me feeling sadly lacking in any concrete knowledge about the lives of my former colleagues, or friends that I was unable to meet up with.
As time moved on, postal charges became a real issue. The cost of sending scores of cards in good time for the season soon doubled, then trebled, until it is now ten times what it was not that long ago.I immediately noticed that I had been dropped off the card lists of quite a few people. I was not surprised. When you haven’t seen someone for perhaps twenty years, it may seem pointless to them to continue to tell you what they are up to, where they are living, or how their children are getting on. I realised that I was unusual in this respect. It still seemed important to me, to retain that annual contact, to keep going that small part of my life that they once inhabited, however briefly. So I continued to send cards to those that did not reciprocate, hoping that they were still at the same address.
By the time I moved to Norfolk, the cost of stamps was becoming something to warrant serious consideration. Sending one hundred plus cards was costing over £50, and that was without the cost of the cards themselves, or the hassle of going to a post office, and queuing to buy the stamps in the first place. But I couldn’t stop myself, and still sent them anyway. As more and more people dropped off the ‘card radar’, I resolved to trim down the number I sent out too. Allowing for those I no longer heard from, and some whose address I was certain was incorrect, I arrived at my revised list. It was still eighty cards though, I could not bring myself to send out less. That moment of yearly communication was still far too important to me.
This year brought even fewer replies. Most have simply had enough of the high charges for stamps, and many are donating money to charity instead, stating this fact on social media. This is laudable of course, but still fails to address the problem of getting all the news, and keeping in touch on a personal level. One of my friends then advised me that she gets all the news about me from my blog. I realised that she was not alone. A lot of my family and friends are regular readers, so they are fully aware of what I have been up to, and what we have been doing as a family. Another suggested that I create an account on Facebook, (something I have always resisted) as ‘That is how people keep in touch these days.’ It finally dawned on me that I am still in touch, one way or another. History has finally caught up with me, and my methods are slowly becoming little more than a quaint old tradition. Perhaps in a hundred years, sending paper cards will be laughed about on TV programmes, or discussed fondly as an oddity.
I for one hope not.