Monday, August 2, 2010

Are Pen Pals Dead?

Photo by Vanilla

Pen pal, what an unfamiliar term.

I once asked a young chap if he has any pen pal. He clarified if I meant 'paypal'. The latter is a popular online application which enables payment via the Internet. It is definitely a more familiar term to people who grow up in the Internet era.

For the less informed, let me explain what a pen pal is. For those who knew but have long forgotten about it, let me bring you some nostalgia.

Photo by Vanilla

What is a pen pal?

Most dictionaries define 'pen pal' as a person whom you have not met but have maintained a friendship through regular exchange of letters. This person is often from another country.

Before the days of the Internet, having pen pals was a common thing. School kids were encouraged to have pen pals from other countries. They often sourced for their pen pals from magazines and they would then maintain communication via snail mails.

Nowadays, writing to a person from a foreign land via a snail mail is such a refreshing and retro idea. When was the last time you send a snail mail to someone abroad using real adhesive stamps? 

Photo by Vanilla

Why bother to have pen pals?

Why would anyone want a pen pal in the first place? Well, there are several incentives for keeping a pen pal, even though some of them are remotely relevant today:
  1. Make a friend
  2. Learn a foreign language
  3. Learn a foreign culture
  4. Collect postage stamps
I grew up during the days before the Internet and I used to have several pen pals. I can certainly testify to the above advantages, especially on the part of stamp collection since I was once an avid stamp collector.

Photo by Vanilla

Are pen pals dead?

Today, I do not know anyone who is having a pen pal. However, I do know that it has not totally gone extinct. In some instances, it is beneficial and appropriate to have a pen pal.

Many pen pals today do not correspond using snail mails. People would look for pen pals on the Internet and subsequently communicate via emails. However, in some instances, pen pals would resort to the good old snail mails as they attach some novelty to this form of communication. In that way, it is also possible to exchange little 'real' souvenirs such as stickers and small stationery items.

Photo by Vanilla

Moving on to new skill sets

For obvious reasons, the original idea of pen pal will not survive the crucifixion of fast-changing modern technologies. We need to move on to newer skill sets in order to survive this fast-pace era.

The death of snail mail

Writing to someone via a snail mail and waiting for a response a few days later is just too unbearable. With the Internet, one gets a faster response with the use of applications such as Instant Messaging, Skype and email. As I am writing this, I am reminded that even email is considered so yesterday now.

New skills needed: People are communicating at an accelerated rate now. We need to know how to manage the various modes of communication so that we do not get drown in the fast rapid of communication flow.

The meaning of 'friend'

It used to mean a person whom you know very well and feel attached to by some personal feelings. Today, it is not necessarily so.

In the context of social networking such as Facebook, a 'friend' is merely someone whom you can share information with. It is not uncommon to have a 'friend' whom you do not know in person. With the use of an avatar and a brief description, a total stranger can also become a 'friend'.

New skills needed: We are making friends in both real and virtual worlds. In a way, a new set of social skills are evolving and we need to know how to behave ourselves (differently) in both 'worlds'.

The way we learn

In the earlier days, we used to learn at a much slower pace. The main sources of knowledge would come from books, newspapers, magazines, TV, movies and anecdotal accounts. Having a pen pal was just one other way to learn about another country and culture. Generally, you would become more knowledgeable if you had more access to information. Heard of "Information is King" before?

Since the Internet became part of our lives, the way we learn changed too. Whenever we have a question, we would use search engines such as Google and Yahoo to fish for answers. Anything less than 'fast and accurate' would not be acceptable.

New skill needed: The amount of information found in the Internet is simply overwhelming. We no longer need to worry about access to information. Rather, we would need to learn how to get to them in the shortest possible time.

Photo by Vanilla

Change is here to stay

If you ask me what is the most important skill set today, I would say it is the ability to respond to changes and continue to stay relevant. Getting good grades in school can only get you so far. Your relevance would soon fade into nothingness if you are unable to keep up.

Many things have changed and they will continue to change at an uncomfortable rate. It requires very conscientious effort on our part to stay afloat. Many people have told me that they are having difficulties catching up and I can fully agree with that.

I do not know about you. I am panting.

"It is not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory."
~W. Edwards Deming~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Inspiring said...

I like the way you explained about “Are Pen Pals Dead?” Really important subject for the future of all of us. Thanks and regards...