When was the last time you received a letter? Not a bill, not a catalog, not even a birthday card or thank you note, but a letter. A personal letter, written just to you.
When was the last time you wrote one?
The thing is, I used to write letters all the time. Long letters. Sometimes to people on the other side of the globe, and sometimes to people I knew I would see in school the next day. I loved writing letters almost as much as I loved receiving them.
Of course, now we have email. And texting. And Twitter, and blogging, and a million ways in which to communicate. So what's so great about a letter? Isn't it just an outdated mode of communication?
I could go on and on about why I think letters are so great, and how they fulfill a purpose that all our modern technology simply doesn't, but off the top of my head:
1. A letter takes effort. Some might say this is the drawback, but the whole reason why a letter carries more meaning than an email is because an email is too easy. It just doesn't mean as much to fire off an email to your grandmother as it does to sit down and write her a letter, even if the content were exactly the same.
2. A letter is tangible. Again, this might be seen as a drawback in our digital age. (I know the last thing I need is more paper clutter in my home!) But a personal letter isn't clutter. It is exactly the sort of thing that you want to hold in your hand, find in a drawer and read again. Recently I found a letter my grandmother had written me when I was getting married. I held it in my hands and knew that she had touched that paper, I saw her gorgeous penmanship, so much a representation of her elegant self. There is no way an email could have communicated that.
3. Most letters are handwritten. When you see someone's handwriting, it is so much more an extension of themselves than their typing. And when we write by hand, somehow we seem to tap into more of our emotional interior than we can with a keyboard. Maybe because it reminds us of journaling, maybe because of the way the brain is wired, but I know that when I am writing by hand I am writing from a more personal place.
4. Letters are part of a long history and tradition. From the time human beings could read and write, they wrote letters to one another. They are their own literary form. Our modern methods of communication tend to truncate and dumb down our language and expression, whereas a letter allows us the time and space to step it up a notch. There are whole oceans of vocabulary that would sound ridiculous in a tweet, but that can make themselves right at home in a nice, long, reflective letter.
5. Writing a letter takes time, and uses your whole brain. This is one of the reasons we don't do it anymore, right? I mean, we're so busy these days, who has time to sit down and write a letter? Especially since you can't do it while multitasking. But this, to me, is a good thing. This is the sort of thing that we should take time to do. Turn off the TV, put aside the cell phone, and focus your thoughts on a single person and what you'd like to communicate with them. It doesn't have to be the deepest secrets of your heart, it could just be a recounting of your day or your week. But I can guarantee you that the quality of what you are communicating will be vastly different than what you would have texted them.
In this spirit, I'm launching a challenge. Letter-Writing Week! Next week, I commit to writing a letter every day. To my mother, to my old friend from grade school, to that English teacher I always meant to thank.
Want to play along? Who would you like to write a letter to? Whose day could you make? While you're at it, get your kids in on the action! There isn't a grandparent on the planet who wouldn't absolutely adore a letter from their grandchild.
So find your stamps, collect your addresses, and get ready! I hereby declare May 16-22 Letter-Writing Week! Are you with me?
And if you're in, please spread the word! Let's bring back letter-writing, before the postal service decides we don't need them anymore.