The Postman's Knock

June 19 1998 3:30 AM

The Postman's Knock

Seeking signs of remembrance in an electronic age.

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W hy am I so eager for the connection? It is not that I expect anything "practical." I am not going to get a letter offering me a six figure advance for the publication of a volume of my personal essays. No, it is as Auden says. I cannot bear to feel forgotten. I seek from the mail or telephone or e-mail some sign of being remembered--and not just as a nine digit Social Security number or a 16 digit credit card number.

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The contents of the communication don't matter. It can be a postcard saying, "I am in Mexico. It is hot here." It can be a phone call asking, "How are you?" It can be an e-mail message forwarding one of those slightly funny jokes that circulate around the Internet. What counts is the connection--the feeling of not being forgotten. Even if the message comes from someone you are sure has not forgotten you--one of your children, for example--it is a comfort to be reminded. It is also a comfort if the message comes from a total stranger, as long as the message is for you specifically and personally and not for a name on a mailing list.

Possibly, I am more avid in pursuit of such connections than the average person. I know people who don't go down for their mail until afternoon, who have no telephone answering service, and who, even if they have an e-mail account, don't log on to see their messages for days at a time. But still, in one degree or another the feeling described by Auden, of not wanting to be forgotten, must be nearly universal. Whole industries rest on that feeling--the greeting card industry and the florist industry, for example. AT&T knows how important it is. That is why it implores you to reach out and touch someone.

In the Jewish tradition, the dead live on in the memory of their survivors. Something like that is true for the living also. The living are most alive when they feel that they are remembered. That is why I go for my snail mail, call for my telephone messages, and log on to my e-mail--several times each day.

Herbert Stein, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents Nixon and Ford. He is a member of the board of contributors at the Wall Street Journal.

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