The Lost Art of Letter Writing

My friends and I make it a point to send each other postcards whenever we travel. Whether it’s a little blurb about the place we’re visiting or a detailed account about something awesome that happened while on our trip, these little nuggets of writing are always welcomed. Pictured below is a wall of postcards displayed at my work desk. During the odd spare moment, I’ll pick one up and quickly read through the message on the back. It always puts a smile on my face.

This quote sums up my feelings on the art of letter writing:

“Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deepen understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewire history. The world once used to run upon their transmission — the lubricant of human interaction and the free-fall of ideas, the silent conduit of the worthy and the incidental, the time we were coming for dinner, the account of our marvelous day, the weightiest joys and sorrows of love. It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept aside. A world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen.” – Simon Garfield

To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, Gotham Books, 2013) It’s so true, isn’t it? I think we take for granted that technology has made it so easy for us to communicate these days. Whether through short, one word texts or through phone calls, we can maintain communication across the planet with an ease never experienced before in history. In fact, we wouldn’t know so much about history if it wasn’t for letters, personal accounts and stories passed down through the generations, on paper. And yet, despite the ease of technological advancements in communication, I feel like we’ve lost so much.

There was a romance associated with letter writing. The thought process of acknowledging you wanted to get in touch with someone in particular, taking the time to sit down and put pen to paper (and if we go back far enough, put ink in the pen that we put to paper), putting the letter in the post, and waiting to hear back. It’s a whole cycle that isn’t as prevalent in our culture as it was in the past. Garfield (author of the book mentioned above) talks about how we used to use our whole hand to write, but now, just the tips of our fingers. And all these changes in just a matter of a couple of decades. Perhaps it’s the romantic in me, but despite being a digital editor, I still find myself walking around with a notebook and pen, taking notes throughout the day. I still write letters to my friends overseas — long, detailed letters that I know I could just type out over Facebook, but what’s the fun in that?

And finally, love letters! Does anyone even write love letters anymore? Remember all the letters that were passed around by characters in Jane Austen novels? (Specifically speaking about the Elizabeth Bennett/Fitzwilliam Darcy connection, here.) There was actually a time when the written word held so much power that it could change the course of people’s lives. Can a text message have the same effect? I’m not so sure. As Garfield puts it, “Digital communication, so much quicker, so much easier, has brought forth a new language and a new etiquette, but also a catalogue of farewells: not to ink and calligraphy, for that went with the typewriter, but for a form of expression, emotion and tactile delight; for something we may clasp to our heart.

What do you think? Do you like writing/receiving letters or are you glad it’s a dying art?