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September 21, 2013

Jim Bailey: Era of pen pals gives way to social media

It was very recently that inexplicably the name of Arne Sandli popped into my head. I hadn’t thought about that name since my grade school days in Minnesota when we were briefly – very briefly – pen pals.

Our teacher set us up with pen pals that year. I think we were fifth-graders, and European students who were learning English and liked to practice it by writing letters were a little older than we. I was given the name of Arne Sandli, who lived in Norway, and his address. I sent a letter asking a few questions about his country and getting into my affinity for radio programs in the era before TV became popular.

Eventually he replied. I don’t recall everything he wrote, but he simply answered my main query by saying, “I have a radio.” It was later in the summer before I wrote again. This time I didn’t get a reply. End of pen pals.

Back in those days pen pals were one method of reaching out to someone from another location or even another culture. In fact letter-writing in general was much more common than it is today.

One friend, whose father was our pastor in my early elementary years, moved away and we corresponded for a while. That too fizzled out eventually; out of sight out of mind, you know. I did run into him a few times later, twice in Michigan and once here in church camp-meeting-type settings. And I’ve encountered his older sister a couple of times in adulthood. But he and I have lost touch also.

The phenomenon of social media, however, has rejuvenated this type of contact. Going on Facebook, Twitter and so on, people are finding and friending others they’ve known in past lives.

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