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Return Address: Aspen, Colorado

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

I received a letter from a friend last week. He’s a cutting edge musician who doesn’t use email or computers. Instead, his recording engineer/bass player/office manager, Justin, manages his website and navigates his cyber-correspondence.

When we first met, I sent him an email. Apparently Justin, the aforementioned go-to technology guy, must have intercepted it and deemed it unworthy of response. “Justin handles all my electronic needs,” said my friend, with his knowing little chuckle.

He owns a record player, and a typewriter, and treats both as though they are the latest technological breakthrough. He gets to most gigs in a big white GMC Van, which still has a tape-deck in it. He has a manual camera that he’s decided to stop using – not because he has a digital; no, because film is getting expensive. And other people send him photos of himself and his life, as he’s a musician, so he doesn’t feel the need to take many pictures anymore.

Fortunately, he does have a cell phone; but it doesn’t work at his house. Sometimes I’ll send him a text, and get a response a week later, when he’s on the road: “You know it, sounds groovy darlin’!” I scroll through my sent box to see what he could possibly be referring to, 8 days later.

He makes me look high tech; which is no small feat. I feel like I’m in the midst of a technological vortex. It looks easy enough to assemble in the picture, ages 3 and up, right? The computer works fine for the IT guy, but put me in front of the screen and suddenly Microsoft has experienced a fatal error, do I want them to send error report? Not really. I have a report: It’s not you, it’s me, computer.

I took a drive with my friend Chris recently. I let him know, with a helpful smile, that I brought along some of my favorite CDs. He tapped his Ipod and said, “Hey, have you seen these?” Whatever.

I then told him about my 50+1 CD changer at home that still rocks, and takes up the whole shelf. I did let him know that I’ve put all my CDs in soft sleeves and finally got rid of the cases. He was impressed. But I still keep the liner notes.

Is new always improved? Is more always better? I mean, how many flavors of Cheezits do we really need? When Ben and Jerry's discontinued Kaberry Kaboom, in favor of newer, more advanced flavors, my friend Jason was -understandably - dismayed. I proposed a strongly worded-letter, but I think he was the bigger person and found a new favorite ice cream flavor, instead.

I remember the days when you had to get up to turn the TV on; now, even I can accept the fact that the remote control was a damn fine invention - but do we need four of them? I was home visiting my sister and we were settling in to watch TIVO of Saturday Night Live. I picked up the most colorful of the remotes, spread across the coffee table like magazines at a doctor’s office, and pressed the power button. Nothing. She just sat there, in a stalemate, a grim look on her face. “Umm, wait, it’s uh, kind of confuuusing,” she said. “Let me get Ted.”

“Jamie, technology is good!” says my stellar, super-high tech, webcam, DVR, computer-savvy, website-building home-movie-making You Tube-posting friend Tom. “It means we’re smarter than monkeys (speak for yourself, Tom).” He continues: “It’s like an old car - you got a Toyota front end, and a ford back-end; is that what you want?” I told him all I really wanted was to turn on the TV, and that I used to know how to do that.

We sat down to dinner and the salad dressing was in a spray bottle - Coppertone on your Caesar, anyone? Who thought it necessary to invent that? I’m not sure if this was meant to be progress, or just ease, but how hard is it to take the top off the salad dressing? Are we that busy?

I admit I’ve been swept up in some of the madness. One of the best things about heading to Fiji for three weeks was that I was away from my cell-phone, and therefore unable to text. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love seeing words come across my screen, and pictures? Pictures on a phone are the greatest invention of our time.

I called about international cell service and the Verizon lady told me I didn’t have an international phone. I told her that my last cell-phone had an antenna and asked if I should have kept that one? It might have got better reception in the middle of the ocean.

Cold turkey was the only way to go, and it was the right choice. It was good to become existential, to focus on whoever was in front of me. I realized how dependent I’d become on virtual, instantaneous communication from people, often letting it interrupt actual experiences and face-to-face interaction.

It’s easy to think we know people through virtual relationships and, as my friend Julie calls it, the “Clever Quip.” The witty, flirty one-liners leave out the silences, the pauses, the thoughtful times and blah moments that are a normal part of spending time with someone. I think in some really meaningful way my trip resonated more deeply, without the constant interruption of my cell phone.

And when I came home, I found a beautiful, type-written letter from my musician in my mailbox. My grandma used to type letters all the time; she’d describe every detail of her day, and though I must admit there was a lot of superfluous information about the desert flora and fauna, deep down I knew I’d always miss those letters when she was gone.

My friend’s letter inspired me. I updated my facebook status: Jamie Lynn Miller is bringing back the art of letter writing. Who wants a letter from me? I got about 12 responses in 8 hours, and hand-scratched letters to California, Australia, Cypress, Hawaii, Virginia, Utah and Idaho, respectively, were sent with my last name, address and Aspen, CO 81611 scribbled in the left-hand corner.

I wonder if at some level, as much as we love to mobile upload and instant message and text and post, a missive from the post office still brings us one step closer to honest, old-fashioned communication. To get a letter from someone shows they took the time and the thought to write, to get a stamp (often the biggest obstacle between me and the mailbox) and to walk out the door and send you that letter, envisioning your face when you find it amongst the bills and bulk mailers and your expression as you read what they’ve taken the time to share. They know that you’ll probably read it when you’re alone, so unlike texting or call-waiting, it’s far from disruptive.

I wonder if we’re all a little hungry for quality interaction, and if sitting on the patio reading a letter, instead of waiting for the cell phone to beep, isn’t somehow a more meaningful and fundamental way to interact, even in 2009. On a white sand beach in Fiji, I thought of putting a message in a bottle and sending it across the South Pacific. Please let me know who you are, where you are, and when you found this. And describe your delight. Return address, Aspen, CO.