The lost art of letter writing


I like to think that I’m technologically savvy. I love how technology connects us and makes our lives simpler. I’ve even become an Apple geek (even if the stock has tanked the past several months, after producing results for so many years.)

But I also see how technology has changed us for the worst.

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In particular, technology has made us reliant on short bursts of text. We’re limited in our tweets to no more than 140 characters. Facebook posts max out at 60,000 plus characters, but most consist of no more than a couple sentences. If you write more than that, your friends are likely to comment that you’ve written a book. We text on our smartphones, but most times we send messages of just a few words strung together to create one shorter word. OMG for example. Some of us still rely heavily on email, but it lacks panache. Most messages are here today, gone tomorrow.

In short, no one writes handwritten personal notes anymore. You still have a few holdovers, the occasional family member who will send you a birthday or Christmas card, but letters, for the most part, have gone the way of the landline phone, CDs, or dvds.

I suggested to someone recently that they might want to send a thank you card to a friend who had helped them in a time of need. You might have thought that I had suggested they prepare to cross the Mojave Desert without food or water. Even with my suggestion, it’s easy to see why personal letters and notes have become outdated. It costs 49 cents to mail a letter nowadays and it’s a major annoyance to sit down and write one. You have to think about what you want to say and there’s quicker, more efficient ways to communicate. Letters take time and who has time?

Despite all that, I still think it’s a shame that a part of our culture has died. People used to communicate some of our deepest, most heart-felt emotions via letter: anger, sadness, love, happiness, and everything in between. Now we’re more likely to pull out our smartphones, make a YouTube video and post it on social media.

But where does that get us?

I still have the letter that my mother wrote to me my freshman year of college. My mother didn’t say much in the letter — just a few run of the mill things — but it touched me that she would take the time to write when it wasn’t something she felt comfortable doing. I pulled the short letter out recently from the bottom of a desk drawer and I could hear my mother’s voice in her scratchy handwriting. The letter instantly took me back to my dorm room and the feeling of happiness I got when I opened the envelope to find the letter and the $20 bill she had hid inside, encouraging me to take care of myself and use the money to get a pizza.

When I send my daughter, a college freshman now like I once was, a text that says GL2U (Good luck to you) or WTG (way to go), will the message still mean as much to her? Will it touch her the same way my mom’s letter meant to me? Will it let her know that we’re thinking of her and that we miss her? Will she save it on her phone for years to come?

Maybe, but I think not.

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I love texting as much as anyone. It’s quick and means I don’t have to talk to someone on the phone or face-to-face and God knows the part of me that is an introvert loves that, but handwritten notes have a lasting touch, a permanence, and commitment that emails or text messages can never have.

Yes, I’m old school, but sometimes going old school and emphasizing the personal touch is just what the doctor ordered.

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2 thoughts on “The lost art of letter writing

  1. Pingback: A blizzard of words in January – Writing from the Heart with Brian

  2. Pingback: My own lil’ time machine – Writing from the Heart with Brian

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