The sad truth is that the act of letter writing has gone by the wayside in the midst of our “instant gratification” digital world. The click & tap convenience of social media apps and email has replaced the regularity and personal touch of letters. We live in a text-crazed world where emojis and acronyms are the new language of communication.
Sitting down to write a letter feels old-fashioned, time consuming and somewhat misplaced in our new world. It is something reserved only for special occasions and people with plenty of time to express themselves through excellent penmanship. Lately though, I find myself missing letters. Putting thoughts and emotions onto the page, with the whispered scratch of a pen, gives me an irreplaceable satisfaction. Finding a letter amidst the usual bills and flyers in the mailbox gives me the same joy as my children.
There is also that sweet nostalgic pleasure from re-reading old letters. On my bedroom shelf, sits a carved wooden box whose time-worn hinges hide the love letters exchanged by my husband and I. Letters written during the flush of new love. Reading those letters now just takes me back; they are as special and meaningful today as they were then. A moment of the past captured forever on paper, a moment that can be relived in an instant.
History was literally shaped by the written word. Written language is believed to have emerged in Sumer, southern Mesopotamia, c. 3500 -3000 BCE. According to scholars, this very act denotes the division between pre-history and history. From that point forward, the world changed and grew. This new system of communication, though primarily for the privileged males in society, helped propel civilization, while at the same time preserving the stories of the past.
You can delve into the past with Simon Seabag Montefiore’s book, Written in History: Letters That Changed the World. This book brings to light a collection of 100 letters spanning centuries, each one fascinating in its historical significance. In Their Own Words: Letters from History is a book compiled by the United Kingdom government that documents great British and international moments.
The handwritten letter is something so simple and yet so important. Being able to write a letter is something we tend to take for granted. The ability to write, send and receive mail from across the globe is truly a beautiful gift. It is something that has existed for centuries as a staple of communication and is sadly losing its importance. It is becoming an antiquated activity rather than routine.
The more I talk about letters, research them and think about them, the more I want to make the effort to write them, to recapture the magic of the ritual. My family and I always make a pledge to take time to read in the summer, but this year we also made it our mission to write letters. While holidaying in Guatemala, we sent postcards and art cards that we made. We also spent a few enjoyable hours gathering the necessary tools to bolster our new pursuit.
I hope that letter writing sees a revival, that the significance of a letter will remain strong within the stream of digital communication. There are days I think we all pine for the simple things in life, where everything old can be new again. May it be so for the art of letter writing.
Community Literacy Coordinator – Creston
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy