How long has it been since you actually sat down and wrote a letter by hand? Months? Probably years? That’s how it is for most people, which is why letter writing seems to be in its last days.
We have so many other ways to communicate now: cell phones, email, IMs, text messages, Facebook, webcams, and cool new tools like Google Wave. UK cell phone subscribers sent nearly 80 billion text messages last year. Meanwhile, global email use is expected to spread to an estimated 3.2 billion people within a year.
When we can send a message to someone in a matter of seconds, it might seem a little pointless to write and mail a letter that will take days to arrive.
The mail services are feeling their fast-approaching obsolescence. Royal Mail volume is expected to drop about 10 percent this year and keep heading down, costing about £70 million for every percent of decline. The US Postal Service recently announced that it lost $3.8 billion dollars and that US mail volume was down 13 percent, with another precipitous drop coming next year.
And you know what? That’s all a shame, really.
For our money, getting a handwritten letter is a much more satisfying experience than any text or email.
Have you ever opened up a letter and smelled the perfume wafting out of the envelope? Ever held a letter in your hand and ran your fingers over the words to feel the impression left by a loved one’s pen? Stirring, isn’t it? Can’t do that with an email.
And there’s a permanence to letters that digital messages just don’t have. You can put a letter in a box and save it forever, maybe read it again in five years or 10, just to remember what it felt like the first time. Letters don’t have a “delete” button, and somehow the words seem to mean more because of that.
Apparently, we’re not alone in feeling this way. Here’s what the guys over at The Art of Manliness had to say about handwritten letters:
The writing and reception of letters will always offer an experience that modern technology cannot touch. Twitter is effective for broadcasting what you’re eating for lunch, and email is fantastic for quick exchanges on the most pertinent pieces of information. But when it comes to sharing one’s true thoughts, sincere sympathies, ardent love, and deepest gratitude, words travelling along an invisible superhighway will never suffice. Why?
Because sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone’s door. Ink from your pen touches the stationary, your fingers touch the paper, your saliva seals the envelope. Something tangible from your world travels through machines and hands, and deposits itself in another’s mailbox. Your letter is then carried inside as an invited guest. The paper that was sitting on your desk, now sits on another’s. The recipient handles the paper that you handled. Letters create a connection that modern, impersonal forms of communication will never approach.
(We highly recommend reading the site’s series on letter writing, which includes tutorials on writing love letters, sympathy notes and letters to fathers.)
AoM is right, a handwritten letter does communicate sincerity far more deeply than an email can. The fact that you actually took the time to handwrite your thoughts when it would have so much easier for you just to tap out an email immediately communicates that you are interested in the person to whom you’re writing. Unless, of course, you’re Gordon Brown, misspelling the name of a dead soldier in a sloppy condolence letter to the soldier’s mother.
Fortunately, letter writing isn’t completely gone.
Of the almost 500 voters who responded to an informal poll at Mixx.com, about 59 percent said they write letters, at least sometimes.
And there was a great story recently in the Chicago Tribune about two women, one American, the other Finnish, who have been corresponding for more than 50 years, since they became pen pals as schoolgirls.
Anja Hietula and Lois Rath finally met in Helsinki last year after trading letters for most of their lives. Hietula’s 16-year-old daughter has now started a pen-pal correspondence with one of Rath’s teenage neighbours (hopefully it will include many handwritten letters.)
Even if you aren’t a sentimental sort, handwritten letters still can have meaning.
Marketer Max Kalehoff made an excellent case recently for the revival of handwritten letters at his blog, AttentionMax. He includes a few examples of recent business-related letters that have had a positive impact on him or others around him, and cites a list of positives unique to a letter:
Without even opening or reading, handwritten letters tend to embody 11 key attributes:
Taking it a step further, sales consultant Colleen Francis says that sending handwritten letters to clients can actually make you money. A letter will help you stand out from the competition and give you likability, a key to influencing your clients’ decisions, she says, paraphrasing Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”
...the heart and soul of an effective letter is its ability to create an emotional response in someone. Letters possess that unique power because they are personalized and help to establish and build a personal rapport between you and your reader.
Whether for love or money, we know our readers have it in them to write some brilliant letters. Being pen enthusiasts, they have all the best writing instruments and paper. And, from our ongoing handwriting contest, we know they also have beautiful handwriting.
So why not write more letters? Your parents, grandparents, siblings, kids, spouses, lovers, colleagues and anyone else to whom you have something to say would probably appreciate it. And it could be that, with enough of us writing, we could keep one of the last personal means of communications from disappearing completely.
If you don’t have anyone and need ideas for people to write, the Inkophile posted some recent suggestions.