Comparing the Eras: Where People Wrote Letters and When They Did Not

2010 March 9
by Grace Boyle

I love writing. You know, my hand, a pen and paper. Not typing on a keyboard.

My mother taught me to always send hand-written thank you letters. I still do. I have my own stationery, a drawer full of unique cards, notes and letters so I am equipped to write at anytime. For example, I wrote 20Things I love about my friends, in list form, from the inspiration of Operation Nice and sent the handwritten lists around the country to my friends. Think about how good it feels to find a card or letter in your mailbox amongst the mundane bills.

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Funny coming from a blogger, right?

Well, it worries me, because we’re the first generation to have no written record of ourselves. An article on the importance of writing humorously asks, “If Jefferson had sent text messages to Adams, think what would have been lost to history.” A valid thought, no doubt.

I find it ironic that we e-mail and text and all the massive amounts of information shared through YouTube, television, cameras, phones, networks and blogging which record every second of our lives, however, it can all be deleted or lost in translation. Newsweek author, Malcolm Jones finds the root of this problem “is sifting through the set of data. The most common complain of our time is that we are overwhelmed by information, unmediated and unstoppable.”

I agree with Jones when it comes to lack of writing in our generation: “The decline in letter writing constitutes a cultural shift so vast that in the future, historians may divide time not between B.C. and A.D. but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not.”

Writing isn’t only a nostalgic feeling for us but “when we read a letter, we develop an image of the letter writer unavailable to us in any other way.” We are transported to the writers words, voice and personality. The written word is alive to me. It’s like comparing your favorite book, eloquently written and envisioned, to a movie. The two simply do not compare.

Writing is important and writing is real.

I write to clear my mind. I write to understand how I feel. I write to express myself. I write to show my love. I write love letters. I have a box of love letters I’ve received over time, from crushes, the big love, high school, college and this year. I will keep them forever. I write to give. I write lists and notes, everyday. I write what I want in life.

I write and I don’t want to stop writing. Pretty soon (if not already) we will be comparing our eras – where people used to write and to now and the future, when we stopped the art of physically writing.

***UPDATE*** A reader sent me this great article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the postal service’s declining business but how the written word is still going strong. I wanted to share with everyone because of it’s relevancy and interesting content. Not to mention, thank you all so much for sharing. I’m happy to hear, there are so many others who find an affinity with the written word. Keep sharing and of course, keep writing. -G

Have you thought about the historical context of hand-written versus online? Do you still write letters or cards or is completely obsolete to you?

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  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Jennifer Ah, it is such a beautiful feeling to get cards in the mail. Always makes me smile :)

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Kat It's true, letters become obsolete almost as soon as you send them. I try to keep mine general and just say “I'm thinking of you,” or an “I love you,” that kind of thing. I also love stationery shops and cards, I collect them. So incredible.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Richard See, that's such a great memento to keep over the years with your relationship. It's not weird at all – I have all my love letters stashed away and even with ex-boyfriends, I will not throw them away. They mean a lot. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @postmuse That's great to hear, I'm so glad you shared! I can't wait to check out your site and to hear you're writing about the same passion for writing :)

  • http://wonderlandornot.net/2009/03/31/letters/ cooper

    I wrote a post almost exactly one year ago titled merely “Letters”. It is one I received tons of email about.

    People still want the letter it seems, and miss it. If I recall the emails correctly, there are still a large number of us who are carrying on some semblance of a tradition in that regard.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.blogspot.com Grace Boyle

    @Cooper I just read it – it's beautiful. I loved hearing your story about your pen pal. I had a few of those that lasted a pretty long time growing up.

    I read the article I linked to a few times here in this post about comparing the eras and not just letters, but the written word and how this affects history, and I knew I had to write something. I was so surprised at the response from everyone! It was even a post that was a draft for a longtime and I forgot to publish because I thought it had all been said – but it obviously resonated with a lot of people. Maybe letter writing isn't completely gone :) Thanks for sharing!

  • Pingback: Two-Year Anniversary of Small Hands, Big Ideas and My Move to Boulder | Small Hands, Big Ideas

  • Sacinelli

    Very cool. Very much a lost art. And yes, it is art. No spellcheck, no erasures. Freeflow. How many can really flow, freestyle, just letting it out. And commit it to paper. And one’s penmanship is so unique. No /s/ or lol or :-). Maybe an extra cross of the “t” or a descript underscore. So important to, not just relearn the art, but to share it.

    Seve

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    It is a lost art, but from the comments here you see that people still appreciate it.

    Sharing is really a big piece of it :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • sample CV

    Brilliant stuff! had to share with facebook!@bose:disqus 
    Letters

  • http://www.jobsearcho.com.au/media-jobs media job

    After reading with your blog, I tried to test my hand writing and guess what I discovered? Since I was graduated in College as an IT student and got work, I didn’t use my hand in writing instead of typing and now what is the result? My typing are more faster than my hand writing. That’s the effect if you always have a typing than writing.

    I really enjoy this. :) THanks

  • Rachael Dawn

    I’m actually writing an article on this for my highschool newspaper. I love writing letters and I noticed how no one writes anymore. So you know what, I thought it’d make a great story idea.

  • Kerkilbourne

    I so appreciate this post, Grace. I have always loved sending and receiving snail mail. It’s one of my simple pleasures. I also adore personalized note cards and stationery. People know that’s a gift I will always enjoy receiving.
    I find it a bit sad that others don’t send letters much anymore, but that won’t stop me from sending notes their way! Here’s to the USPS and to snail mail!
    Cheers!
    Ker

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

     Cheers to that :) Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment!

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    Scintillating info, a must known feature for any designer vide experience. Thank you.http://www.sampleletters.in/

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