Sadly, over the years, a simple handwritten letter has been moved from an everyday practice to a unique way to communicate. In a world of instant messaging, texting, and email, you may wonder if handwritten letters are relevant or if they have a place in the modern world.
Please excuse me while I emphatically yell, “YES THEY DO!” and suggest we should keep up the practice, and maybe even increase our efforts.
It’s easy to forget that a simple handwritten letter, sent snail mail, is an easy and affordable gift we can give someone else. We show care and attention when we take the time and effort to write, stamp, and mail a letter.
“Letters are something different from you. It’s a different kind of expectation than writing an email.” ~Keanu Reeves
Why We Don’t Send A Handwritten Letter Anymore
The quick surface answer is technology. We use email, text, and even instant messaging through social media to communicate and share thoughts. But if you dig a little deeper I think there are two main reasons.
First, as we all know, we are an instant gratification society. We like to be able to send a message right now, while we are thinking about it, and receive an immediate reply.
Okay, well, maybe not immediate, it depends on the person and their age. Getting a reply from a Millenial/Generation Y’er, that can be a challenge, even via text!
With all this instant communication, we end up thinking there is nothing left to say in a letter.
Secondly, we’ve lost sight of the value of a handwritten message. We do not see the legacy we lose by not sending and receiving real letters versus digital messages. How many emails and texts have you printed out, saved, and re-read over the years?
Why We Save Handwritten Cards and Letters
In the book, Gift of a Letter: Giving the Gift of Ourselves, the author Alexandra Stoddard says, “A letter is a chapter in a relationship.”
This was brought home to me in a real way recently as I dove into my last stacks of unpacked boxes. I was quickly distracted by the memory boxes I hadn’t looked at in the years they were in storage.
A couple of boxes were filled with papers, tickets, programs, gifts, and most importantly, cards and letters to and from family and friends. Some of the cards date back to my early childhood. What a flood of memories that came over me as I went through them.
Saved Letters = Saved Memories
Growing up our Pastor’s Mother-in-Law basically adopted me as one of her grandchildren. Grandma Sweney and I had a special bond that I’m not entirely sure I can explain, but as a child, I just accepted.
Until the age of about 9, I spent most Friday nights at her house and probably spent more time with her than my maternal or paternal Grandmothers during those years. It didn’t hurt that we shared the same birthday!
Upon her death, the family gave me a box of mementos they thought I would like to have, the bulk of which were letters and cards I had sent her over the years. So many of those letters had a note on them, “answered” usually followed by the date.
Thankfully I have most of those replies from her saved in scrapbook albums. Some were lost in a house fire when I was in high school, which makes those I still have, all the more precious. Seeing her handwriting and reading her notes bring back memories of our time together.
In digging further through these boxes, I found both store-bought and handmade cards given to me by friends and family including a pile from my youngest sister Aimee. And, now that she is no longer with us, these are treasured memories I have of her.
I also found letters and cards written by friends both near and far as we all moved from high school to college, and beyond. There are even letters, pictures, and handmade gifts from the kids of these same friends who now call me “Aunt Marta.”
You can see why I got so distracted!!
As I went through these stacks of letters and cards, my heart started to feel a little sad as I noticed the piles from recent years were so much smaller.
Why we should still write and send handwritten letters and cards.
1) Memories – Oh the memories of friends, families, marriages, deaths, and births. These memories should be cherished, shared, and not forgotten. There are memories of events long forgotten, experiences shared and brought to life through the letter from a friend.
2) Letters are Gifts – Taking a few moments to write a message no matter how long or short is a gift of your time, attention, and thought. When we receive a letter, we take the time to read them, and in many cases re-read them.
Some of my favorite letters over the years have been from nieces and nephews sending thanks for a gift or just to say hello. These make me smile and are one of the best gifts I can receive.
3) Writing a Letter is a Creative Act – It’s easy to dismiss this idea but writing in and of itself is a creative act. It is putting together a string of words to convey a message or to bring to life an idea or shared memory.
“A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.” (Source)
4) You Can Brighten Someone’s Day – Think about this for a moment. Imagine pulling out a stack of mail from your mailbox when you spy a brightly colored envelope, or you notice familiar handwriting. How do you feel? What do you do?
I bet the other pieces of mail are quickly forgotten as you grab the envelope where the pen was put to paper. I also bet that you smile and feel like your day is instantly brighter as you read the words.
Handwritten Letters Still Have Their Place in the Digital Age
I love and use email, texting, and yes even instant messaging on Instagram and Facebook. It’s quick and easy. This type of communication has its time and place.
Which means that there is also a time and place to take a few minutes to write out a message, by hand, with meaning and feeling to let someone know you care and that you have been thinking about them.
So, answer the title of this post, yes, a handwritten letter is still important in the digital age.
When is the last time you receive a handwritten letter?
When is the last time you sent one?
Who’s day could you brighten with Snail Mail this week?
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Marta Goertzen is an entrepreneur, writer and nature photographer. She daily explores the trails and beaches of the South Central Oregon Coast with her buddy Bailey. You can follow along on their adventures on Instagram. She is also the author of several books including her newest, “Choosing Gratitude: A Daily Quiet Time Journal”.