Depending on your age, your teacher may have set you up with a pen pal when you were a child. Someone in a far away land who you traded letters with; learning what life was like on the other side of the globe. I remember my classmates getting all excited on the day pen pals were issued, many of whom would later bring in letters and pictures from their new, foreign friends for Show and Tell day. (My self-elected pen pal was my former BFF from pre-school. Her family left the Westside and moved 20 miles across town when I was seven. She wrote to me about the oddities of the San Fernando Valley and I kept her up to date about life at the beach.)
Today, I can't help but to realize that the pen pal concept is no longer relevant (at least not in its original form). Yes, I know there are several sites online that will match kids and adults with pen pals, but who needs that? People can hop on their computers and meet folks in different countries any time they like.
Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social networking sites, lots of us have cyber friends all over the world. We share Twitpics and tweets with far away "followers" and post comments on the walls of Facebook friends in exotic places. Yesterday, I connected with someone interesting from Turkey and traded tweets with him about blogging and animals.
So, in many ways, I guess my cyber friends are, indeed, 21st century pen pals. People who tell me about their lives, their families, their hobbies, and life in their part of the world. Instant communication that, thanks to character limits, probably takes no longer to read or write than a child's pen pal letter. No waiting for the mail to arrive; no postage stamps to purchase.
It's no wonder the U.S. Postal Service is sinking faster than a blow-up raft with an anvil on it.