The Lost Art of Letter Writing

There was a time when writing letters was the primary means of communication. I remember as a child when I got a letter (it was a subscription letter for a children’s program), I was so excited and proud to be the youngest recipient of a letter in the family, even though it was nothing personal. And I dreamed of the day when I would finally grow up and start writing and sending letters. However, with the advent of internet, email, and online chatting, the art of letter writing has faded into obscurity.

“Who has time to write letters nowadays?” you ask. How much more easier to send and get replies within a few seconds from somebody on the other side of the ocean rather waiting for weeks, even months to get their reply? There’s no denying that modern technology enables us to stay connected with people and be up to date with the current affairs in a different part of the world, and this is all the more crucial in a corporate world where business decisions are made in real time.

However, here are four reasons why the art of letter writing should be resuscitated.

  1. Personal:

    There’s something very emotive about getting a letter from someone close, or even a distant acquaintance, that cannot be captured on online print. Do we remember the 100-plus text messages we send to our friends, colleagues, relatives every day? But the contents of a letter are usually imprinted on our memory, especially if it’s from a dear and loved one. For example, a letter from grandpa just describing his usual day, the accompanying anecdotes and mental imageries that would evoke.

  2. Handwriting:

    Trying to read an illegible scrawling may seem like a hair-pulling endeavor, but the reward of finally making sense of the contents of the letter can be very satisfactory, and oftentimes, fun. A person’s handwriting is very unique, and whether it’s a beautiful curling script or chicken scrawl, can offer deep insights about their characteristics and personality. But then again, there’s the simple joy of just seeing and recognizing their handwriting on a letter. How many of us can recognize the handwriting of a close friend or relative?

  3. Time and Effort:

    Unlike in devices where it’s easy to delete unwanted information, there’s so much effort and thought put into penning even simple sentences in indelible ink. The author probably set time apart to sit at their desk with a nice cup of tea, and really put in a lot of thinking and reflection before penning that missive because they want the phrase to be just right, the spelling correct, the flow of ideas coherent.

  4. Keepsakes:

    Even if we are not compulsive hoarders, we have a tendency to store letters or any handwritten notes/cards because there is a memory, time, and space associated with them. It is not as easy to throw away letters (unless it’s a bill) as it is to delete a text message or email. Letters, stained with age and filled with memories, are carefully stacked away, to be taken out and dusted for an umpteenth perusal when the urge to read it just one more time comes over you.

    Hark back to a time where letter writing flourished and was synonymous with love letters, where it was their only language of self-expression between young lovers. However, there has been a cultural shift over the years from reading a physical letter to reading onscreen. We may have advanced technologically and in many other ways, but in the process we have so far lost the art of letter writing that it can be called a “vintage” skill. In summary, a poignant quote from Catherine Field’s thought piece in The New York Times:

    “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.”