December 13, 2010

What I'll Tell Everyone and What I'll Tell Someone



For a while now, I've been working on a non-fiction article. It's required a great deal of research and tested the strength of my google-fu.

Rather than text books and articles, suprisingly, my main source of information has been correspondence. The letters I've found have easily cut straight through the immense amount of bullshit I've come up against, giving me a very precise portrait of the man I'm researching, and suggested avenues of exploration that I wouldn't have thought of on my own.

Today, however, I realized that soon researchers won't have this for a resource. No one writes letters anymore. Not honest-to-goodness letters on paper tucked into an envelope, sealed, and then mailed. It's all e-mails and tweets and Facebook statuses.

For me, an e-mail has never carried the same sort of personal weight and attachment; even with my generation probably being the last to remember what it was like to write and mail a letter, and wait for a response. Beyond any question of weight, emotional or personal, there's the problem of conservation. I know I don't save e-mails the same way I save letters. Unless it's a bill receipt or some important bit of information I know I'm going to need again, it get's tossed.

What does that mean for future researches?

I suppose the argument can be made that blogs will provide the same source of information that we get now from reading someone's personal correspondence. But I still think those are two very different beasts. There's a stark difference between what I'm willing to tell everyone and what I'm willing to tell someone.

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