No more pen pals?

Published 11:44 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Last Friday, I was at Northern Shores Elementary School for a unique videoconferencing event.

Children in a third grade classroom were connecting through live video streaming with children in a third grade class in New Jersey. It was very cool to watch.

They got to read books to one another. And they got ask each other questions. And at the end of the session, they asked each other if they would like to be pen pals.

Email newsletter signup

Pen pals.

What a great concept, I thought. I remember being their age and having pen pals at school. I would get so excited to get each letter in the mail. Granted, most of the time, the letters were somewhere between one and two sentences and answered the one question I asked in the last letter and maybe asked me one question in return. But, hey, it was still fun.

Anyway, as I watched the kids excitedly communicate with their new pen pals, I was getting a little happy for them knowing they, too, would soon get the thrill of out-of-town mail.

Then the teachers explained that they would most likely be emailing their new friends.


Don’t get me wrong; I’m as much of a text/e-mail/Facebook wall-post communicator as the next person. But a pen pal should be different. You should write letters. And get letters. After all, it’s called a pen pal, not an “e-pal.”

I was slightly disheartened as I saw the opportunity for these kids shift to yet another online social networking tool. But then I got to thinking: What ever happened to pen pals? Clearly I did not keep in touch with my pal from third grade (at this moment, I can’t even promise you I know her name, but I want to say it was Helen).

I went online and did a quick search, and sure enough there are dozens of Web sites dedicated to setting up people as pen pals (And yes, Suffolk, I see the irony in using the Internet to overcome a dependency on Internet communication).

There are participants from across the United States and across the globe – there is a site directly linked to getting a pen pal in prison, but I think that’s a safe one to sidestep altogether.

Anyway, I have set up a profile on one of these sites to see how it all works out, and hopefully soon I’ll have some new stories to tell in this column from my new, letter writing friends.