The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Corresponding with friends and relatives has become quite common in the past few years, thanks to the invention of e-mail. However, the act of sitting down, pen in hand, and producing a handwritten letter has become virtually a lost art. This is unfortunate, because writing a letter by hand and sending it through Canada Post may take a bit longer than dashing off an e-mail, but there are some definite and delightful advantages.

For one thing, personal letters handwritten with care have a different effect on the recipient than a dashed off electronic message. The handwritten letter conveys the essence of the sender’s personality, stimulates the senses, assists in the development of writing skills by causing us to take greater care in choosing our words, and ultimately relieves stress by forcing us to slow down and live more fully in the moment.

Obviously, sending a letter through the mail is a time consuming process. It involves selecting paper, choosing a suitable pen, finding stamp and envelope, and deliberating over each and every word as though we were ordering from a menu. At every turn, it defeats our desire for a quick turn-around, refuses to scratch our itch for instant gratification.

Think about the benefits, though. The pool of light falling on the top of the escritoire. The weight of the pen in your hand. The smell of the ink and the pleasure in feeling the pen scratching across the creamy white paper. The sense of your personality that is revealed to the recipient by your penmanship – far more evocative than the use of electronic smilies, bullets, fonts and underlining.

Think also how much more rewarding it is for the recipient to get a letter delivered by an actual mail carrier. The computer has not been invented that can allow the reader to smell and feel your words and the paper they are written on. Think of them being able to read your letter over and over again, if they choose, on the ferry or the bus. Think of them storing it in a cedar chest or sticking it on their fridge. Think of it being found years later by children or grandchildren perhaps half a world away. Consider the possibility of this piece of paper becoming a historical document for unborn generations to contemplate, instead of disappearing into the ether.

Because e-mail is devoid of personality and sensory gratification, it is quickly received and quickly forgotten. In most cases it is swiftly deleted to make way for the deluge of future, personality-challenged correspondence. Let’s face it — we’re inundated with meaningless electronic material. The last thing we’re thinking about is treasuring or savouring these documents. Deleting and cleaning up files so that the speed of the computer is consistently fast is first and foremost in their minds, and so a part of our personal histories is being deleted as a result of technology.

The relentless, indiscriminate need for speed symbolized by the use of e-mails for all correspondence puts needless stress on us, and robs us of some of the enjoyment of our lives. In contrast, handwriting a letter to someone important in our lives is a very therapeutic process. The mere act of slowing down, getting comfortable, and writing a letter is an act of kindness to ourselves.