Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The death of the letter: Must it be?

Dear Reader,
Yes, I'm writing this post in letter form. And there's a very good reason for it.
My book club recently finished a charming little book called "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society." While I enjoyed this book on several levels, it also made me sad. And here's why.
People don't write letters anymore.
I used to write to my great uncle every once in awhile. But then I moved to his town. And I guess I write my grandmother every once in awhile. But I can honestly say that I don't really remember the last time I received a letter from anyone. Think about it. Pen and paper have become as antiquated as typewriters or telegrams. It's sad. More than that, it's alarming.
My book club had an interesting time chewing this over. What is it about letters, that make things more interesting, more PERSONAL even than an EMAIL. Handwriting came to mind for me, but since the book doesn't contain different styles of handwriting (other than the one style of print the publisher chose for the entire book) that couldn't very well be the answer.
Our group finally settled on an answer. It wasn't handwriting. Or penmanship. Or the "tangibleness" of a letter that makes it so special. It's the fact that a person takes more time and effort with it... puts more thought into it ... than we do even with emails these days.
Emails, we decided, have become so succinct. So brief and casual. But letters ... people used to take their time with letters. They were often so beautifully written and contained the details of everyday life. They were often a form of art.
An art form sadly lacking into today's culture.
So what did I do to lament my lack of snail mail? My lack of friends/family to write long, meandering letters to?
I went on a pen pal site.
Three hours later, I am now the proud recipient of a pen pal. Elisa is 28 and the mother of two girls, living in England. That's all I know of her, (and all I'll say, for her privacy's sake) but I'm super excited to get writing.
Maybe I'll bore her to tears with my random musings and we'll find that the real issue at heart is that our culture has outgrown the tolerance of long meandering letters.
Or maybe we'll both enjoy the outlet -- The ability to talk with a stranger far across the sea and share our random thoughts.
Either way, the chance to chat with someone new sounds delightful. I figure it's a win-win situation.
So here's to the "letter," long may it live! And I urge all you readers out there to sit down with some paper and write one up ... for old time's sake! If your kids ask what you're doing, tell them that this is how people used to communicate ... in the "olden days"!



marzi said...

as someone who designs stationery and relies on it to put food on the table, i applaud you! hand-written letters are the best!

Cassie said...

Yay for letters! I still write letters, myself, because some people I know don't have a computer (hard to believe!). I love printing out pictures and sending them along with the perfect card or stationary (Marzi, do you have a website? I am always on the lookout for great cards and stationary!).

Katie, do you remember that German dance troop that came to school and we all became pen pals with them? That was fun!

I'd like to add to this, if I may, and say that, with the same idea in mind, I always prefer to give and receive handmade gifts instead of gift cards and store bought gifts. All for the exact same reason as what you are thinking. I love to give my time and effort more than "I searched online for AN HOUR and found the perfect gift for you! It's shipping here as we speak!". Although, sometimes the perfect gift does jump off the shelf at times too... :)

Great post, Katie!

+gmjameson said...

Here's a thought about more that we've lost: the art of conversation (or maybe, the art has morphed into its new media form and we need to appreciate that, too) ... but before Internet, Sat TV, etc. - what did we DO all evening? We talked. And read. And talked. With neighbors, with kids, with spouses. There's a simplicity and complexity in that I think that we could stand to revive.

Katrina said...

With that went the neighborhood. Neighborhoods are not even cohesive units anymore. No one knows their neighbors. It's beyond frightening. Good thoughts Gret!

C Staude said...

As an "elder follower" of your blog, I am delighted to hear the younger set discussing a time I remember so well. Having grown up spending long summer evenings sitting on the neighbor's porch talking about everything and nothing, I must admit this post made me VERY nostalgic. I have stationery gathering dust that is definitely coming out of the drawer this weekend!Thanks for caring enough to express all of this!

DawnK said...

I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter. It was maybe to a kid away at camp and I didn't WRITE it. I probably typed it!

My girlfriend and I, who live in the same town now, lived apart for about 10 years, before we moved to Sheboygan. She used to write to me all the time. I love coming across her letters occasionally and re-reading them. The thing about emails is they all get deleted. There is no record! We won't have the little snippets of our past, for us to read and laugh over, like generations in the past.

I used to love getting stationery for presents. Now I really have no need for it.

Chris said...

That was what I was thinking. Letters can be got out read again and again. It's like family history. What history will the next generation have?