I found myself captivated this summer by an exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum of Edward Gorey illustrations that included some exquisite hand-drawn envelopes for letters he had written to his mother, Helen. Even more than the other beautiful, amusing and slightly macabre work on display, those drawings got me thinking about the loss of material artifacts that comes with digital communication and its insinuation into every nook of daily life. Librarians and historians and curators certainly must rue this turn of events, but so do I.
Digging through my parents' garage, I recently unearthed a shoebox stuffed with letters from an old long-distance flame of mine. Some day far in the future, when I'm feeling nostalgic or working on my memoirs, I'll enjoy reading those heartfelt missives and laughing (or cringing) at reminders of the British life I used to lead. It's saddening that I won't be able to do the same for my lovely and amazing boyfriend now, because the flurry of romantic texts and e-mail and chat messages he sends me aren't sitting safely in a box anywhere.
If a museum ever mounted a retrospective on my life, the curators would be stymied trying to exhibit anything after 1997-1998, when I sent my parents a parcel of letters from Beijing that now serve as my main diary of that Chinese escapade. (Note: The letters feature an unfortunate lack of resemblance to Gorey's. I accepted the fact a long time ago that drawing does not count among my talents.) To represent the past decade, they'd have to turn to my Facebook profile... and anyone could read that at home without heading to the museum. Where's the fun in that? People would miss out on not only crystallizing moments -- such as the Brandywine one, which led me to launch this blog -- but also gift shops.