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Penpals – Do You Remember Them?
When I was a boy, and that was quite a while ago, writing letters, telephoning or sending a telegramme were just about the only means of communication over long distances.
Middle-class children were encouraged to write letters, not that I was from that social group, and one of the ways of promoting literacy and an interest outside one’s area and family was to write to other schoolchildren. I was never encouraged to write to other children in English, but every now and again, my foreign language teachers would come up with a foreign penpal scheme. I had various French and German penpals when I was a teenager. In my case, none of them lasted long, but there have been tens of thousands of instances of penpals writing for decades and never meeting face to face.
Obviously, the Internet and smartphones changed all that – and for the better, in several ways, but it was also another nail in the coffin of handwriting, which is a shame in my opinion.
Nowadays, people share photos of their food with friends and family all across the world in seconds, but there was something to be said for waiting for a letter from a penpal too – strange as that may seem to people who never had penpals.
My reason for writing this article was that I was talking to a young woman who had no idea of the concept of penpals, although she undoubtedly has thousands of followers on social media.
I do miss writing letters by hand with a fountain pen and having to wait weeks for a reply, but I also enjoy the immediacy of the Internet.
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Podcast: Penpals – Do You Remember?