There’s an interesting article here on the enduring value of handwritten letters in the age of instant global communication, and I can’t say I disagree with any particular point.
I have a stack of special letter paper in my desk drawer. When I have an opportunity to send a letter or thank-you note to someone, I get the expensive, parchment-like paper out of the drawer, and ink up the best and most fancy pen in the case. Just a few days ago, I wrote a five-page letter to my mother in Germany, who isn’t quite down with the whole email thing. I included a stack of new pictures of her grandkids, and a little gift to go along with everything.
Now, the paper letter isn’t as fast as email, and not nearly as efficient. I could have attached all those pictures to an email and sent the whole thing across the Atlantic in the blink of an eye. Instead, I had to get out the paper, ink up the pen, take thirty minutes of my time to hand-write the whole thing, stick the paper into an envelope, and actually go to the post office to send it on its way. It cost a few dollars instead of a few cents, and it will take about a week to reach its destination.
But you know what? I know for a fact that Mom enjoys getting a physical letter much more than she would an email, because she, too, knows the kind of extra effort it takes.
The handwritten letter has much in common with the handwritten draft. The act of writing by hand is a mentally exclusive activity. You focus on what you want to tell the reader, and you’re in a particular state of mind while you do so, one that revolves around the narrative and the intended audience. Your mind is with the narrative and recipient the whole time, a kind of reflective meditation that doesn’t happen for me when I dash off a two-paragraph email in between checking Twitter and doing research on Wikipedia.
Best of all, the recipient gets to hold something that was in your hands not too long ago, something you worked on personally, something that took a chunk out of your day to produce and send off. It’s done in your handwriting, which–however neat or sloppy it may be–is a part of you, a physical expression of your personality and mood.
I have a drawer full of letters from family members, handwritten snapshots of their lives at some point. There are quite a few written by my grandmother, who passed away three years ago. I have these artifacts here that were touched by her, on which she made marks with a pen in her hand, and which she personally carried to her local post office, all because she valued me enough to let me know her thoughts.
We don’t hand-write letters to people we don’t care about, and that may just be the main reason why people still enjoy getting handwritten envelopes in the mail. If my grandmother had been computer-savvy, she probably would have sent me emails a few times a month, like my connected siblings do. But would I have valued her last email as much as I do the last letter I ever received from her?