Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 25, 2014

John Cannon: Will family photos, letters become a thing of the past?:3/26/14

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — Although we are about the same age, I don’t think I have much in common with Reg Henry, a writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette whose syndicated column we occasionally run in The Independent. He grew up in Australia, while I grew up on a farm in southcentral Ohio. Politically, he is somewhat to the left of me. However he and I do share a similar sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves, a trait that has helped me keep from taking life too seriously.

However, in a recent column, Henry shared a concern that has also been a concern of mine for more than a decade. It is how each advance in how we communicate with one another has brought a decline in our communication skills. We are writing and talking more, and we’re taking more photos than ever, but our use of technology has brought about no noticeable improvements in how we talk and how we write to each other.

Specifically, Henry wrote about the decline in photographs and wondered if there would be any photographs of our age for future generations to view. It is not that we have stopped taking pictures. We are always taking pictures of ourselves and of others and putting them on Facebook pages for the world to see. But I suspect the life of most of those photos is no more than a few days before they are deleted and never seen again.

There is one thing that Reg Henry, my wife and I have in common: We all possess large photo albums of family members. During the final years of her long life, I spent many hours reading to Mom from old scrapbooks both she and her mother had kept over the years. Some of Grandma Reno’s scrapbooks dated more than 80 years.

Grandma Reno only had a third-grade education, but she loved the written word. On the othe hand, Grandpa Reno was illiterate.

Admittedly, most of the stuff in those old scrapbooks was rather boring even for a relative like me. But in those books, I read the obituary about my grandfather, who died a year before I was born and who I am named after. It helped me get to know a little bit about the grandfather I never had the chance to meet.

Mom never tired going through those old scrapbooks. She could no longer see well enough to go through them on her own, which is why she brought them out when I came to visit. I was her eyes for her.

Mom died in January 2013, but my wife’s mother still is with us at the age of 95. My wife recently spent a week visiting her mother in Nebraska, and guess what they did? They went through old family photo albums and scrapbooks just like a used to do with Mom. Some of those same albums she had gone through when my wife last visited her mother, but Meme never tires of them, just like Mom loved to go through the old albums.

Like Reg Henry, I wonder if there will be any old family albums for our children and grandchildren to go through to pass on family history to the next generation. Frankly, I have my doubts. The present will be on display on our Facebook pages, but the past will be deleted and forgotten. How sad.

 While Henry was lamenting the demise of the family photo album, I am just as concerned about the decline in the written word.

I think about how our nation’s history is enriched by the letters John and Abigail Adams wrote to each other while he was busy helping other write the Declaration of Independence. Much of what we know about the inner workings of the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia comes from those letters, and I am so thankful both John and Abigail had the ability and took the time to write them — and that they had the good sense to keep them.

Thank God they didn’t have email in 1776. If they had, those letters would have been much shorter and likely would have been deleted and “junk mail.” What it they had Twitter back then? Would what they have written to one another had been just a series of short phrases and abbreviations no one can understand?

While certainly not as elegant as the letter of John and Abigail, I also have a few letters written by family members who died years ago. Each time I read one, they come back to life. I even have a collection writings dated in the 1890s my great-Uncle Harley either wrote or saved. I call them 19th-century pornography and at Mom’s insistence I not only had to read them to her one night, but I had to explain them. How embarrassing!

On Facebook, people are always sharing with each other how they spent the day, but for the most part, I don’t think they put much thought to what they are writing.

How sad it would be if all our grandchildren and great-grandchildren have to remember us by is a bunch of old Facebook postings. God help us if that’s where we are headed.

JOHN‚ÄąCANNON can be reached at (606) 326-2649.