I spent the better part of the weekend poised by the computer waiting for emails to come through so I could answer them. Instantaneous communication is generally great, except that now everyone expects it. The message goes through the instant you send it (sort of, unless you have an email provider that can’t sodding get their act together *cough*). People can respond to it instantly too. Which starts to mean they should respond to it instantly. Oh, my life.
I have absolutely no business pining for the age of handwritten letters. I grew up in the computer age, though I was rather late to the internet compared to most of my peers. Even without email and instant messaging, no one was ever more than a few hours away by phone. Leave a message, hear back before the day is out. Written letters were reserved for holiday cards and thank-you notes.
I do pine for that bygone age, though. There is something deeply romantic about letters, those tiny time capsules that carry messages into the future. Stories from WWII always get me in particular. Now and then, the news will run a story of letters lost for decades that finally found their way to the recipient, letters from a frontline to a home front that both disappeared a lifetime ago. One last chance, right? One last chance to express love and hope and desperation and longing, a chance stolen from the jaws of time and death and distance.
I’ve been thinking about doing a series of posts about magic and science and how fiction can transform one into another. I suppose I should talk about instant transmissions–telepathy and wormholes and pervasive vid phones. All very nice things (except telepathy, which freaks me out).
I would rather talk about slow communication, though, so I’m going for the magic end of things. Magic-using worlds vary from the very primitive to the highly advanced. I rather like the inefficiency of the mail owls of Harry Potter, for example. We’re talking about oversized, nocturnal carrier pigeons, for goodness sake. I like the idea of messages that come to me as well. Forget sitting by the computer, trapped by the obligation of instantaneous communication. Let me go about my business and let the messages track me down.
I want to see bubbles used for messages. I wrote a bit about bubbles in my newsletter, Wonder on a Budget. I like the idea of using them to trap a voice, carry the message away, and release the message as they burst. What a horrifically impractical means of communicating, and what a beautiful one. Think of the dangers the world would pose to a little bubble bearing that precious message. Think of the fleets of bubbles one would need to send out to ensure delivery. This is the communication version of nature’s divide between nurturing one offspring at a time and just tossing a horde of them out into the world and hoping for the best.
Even with magic to protect and guide them, I imagine air currents could throw them marvelously off-course. How long would it take for them to arrive then? Would it be a kindness or a cruelty to get that preserved burst of voice years after the fact? What fears could be assuaged, what wounds could be reopened?
After this weekend, I wouldn’t mind waiting a year or fifty before receiving the next email. (I’ll happily take comments, though!)