Is Letter-Writing Lost?


The Internet can be a road to a knowledge, or a whirlwind tour of highway rest stops.

As I mentioned previously, the Internet can be a bountiful source of information. It can also provide a plethora of information. As we learned back in early days of guide writing, if you say “You can find a plethora of sites..” what you’re actually saying is, “you can find way too freaking many sites…” or “If you look at the Internet too much, you could end up severely ADD, barely able to string together two paragraphs, or listen to anyone for more than two minutes.”

This week, the damage that the Internet could be doing to our brains and ability to relate is a hot topic on the semantic web. The New York Times asked whether social media sites were wrecking friendships. My co-worker, Liz Colville, pursued that matter in greater detail in her column, Backslash, asking “Is Digital Technology Wrecking Our Relationships?” One of the topics she explored was whether our ability to communicate through writing was suffering, due to ubiquitous nature of “written” communication. Shortly thereafter, I did a piece for findingDulcinea investigating whether, when it came to today’s Web savvy students, the Internet was, “A Boon to Writing, or The Beginning of the End.”

Essentially, everyone is writing a lot more, but taking less responsibility and lowering the standards of conventional quality. In her piece, Liz mentioned letter-writing as something we simply don’t do anymore, but is a loss. Personally, I’ve always loved letter-writing, probably because I have a slight preoccupation with pens. But I also have to come to recognize it’s important for your brain.

Re-dedicating myself to writing by hand is something I’ve done since reading “Script and Scribble” and it’s had a very positive result. My thinking has changed quite a bit. To that end, I wrote a letter last week. A long letter. By hand. It was sort of a reaction to some of comments I got after my Mary Stuart mistake post. Apparently, everyone has anxiety attacks whenever they send an email. Gross! I decided to see if there was a way to avoid it.

As it turned out, I felt that letter writing did not produce the same kind of anxiety. In fact, I wrote this letter, sealed it up and held onto it to four days. I didn’t re-read it. I didn’t change anything. I did some thinking about what I thought it said, but I couldn’t totally remember, so I couldn’t really worry about it.

Then I delivered my letter. Still no anxiety, but I had a lingering feeling that I had not made my point. “Was it rambly?” A friend asked. “Yes it was,” I assured him. “You have to be clear,” he told me.

Three days later, I decided, “I know how to make a point! I know how to be clear! GCHAT!” I wrote one sentence. I got the empty reply, “Ok.”

I felt really triumphant. Surely “Ok” meant I had been clear, made my point, won. Whether I actually accomplished anything is up for debate. But that tiny little box in that controlled, anonymous little world made me feel successful.

But what about my letter? Was it really all a waste of ink? Definitely not. I didn’t understand it all until I was in yoga class doing a balancing pose and my teacher explained, “you’re not supposed to be still. You’re supposed to rocking. Swaying doesn’t mean you’re failing. It means you’re in the pose.”

And then I realized: A letter is the swaying. It is a snapshot of you when you are in the metaphorical pose. A letter is in real time. It takes real time to write, real time to read, and once you’ve written it, it exists as a testimony to the minutes, hours or days of your life that you have spent in a frame of mind. It is a truthful leg of your path, not a refined, reworked, retouched version of what you’d like to be thinking or saying, or some place you can pretend you are going.

So: Write more letters. And remember that it is the swaying, not the balancing that reveals your direction and focus.

(how many characters was that last bit…?)

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3 thoughts on “Is Letter-Writing Lost?

  1. I realize this may make me unusual…well, actually, I guess lots of things make me unusual…anyway, I pretty much write e-mails the same way I'd write letters–I use whole words (look through all my blog posts and comments on this and other blogs…you will never see “lol” or any of that crap) and never send anything without proofreading it (though, of course, I sometimes make errors in proofreading). As for writing by hand…be glad I can't leave comments on blogs by hand. If I could, then right now you'd be saying “what the hell is that squiggle supposed to be?” (And, actually, you wouldn't still be reading at this point, but would've given up after the first line or two)….

    Reply

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