A recent hand written letter I received in the mail, is lying on my desk, begging for a reply - a hand written one! What did people do before email, text, social media?
Writing letters by hand was not only a way of communication but also an art form (more in handwriting here). Handwriting styles were scrutinized, interpreted, loved and hated. Stationary and writing utensils were an expression of wealth, attitude, and position. Letters were evaluated for their smell and weight by their recipients. Mail was delivered twice a day, the morning and evening post were part of everyday conversations. The arrival of the postillion, the mail man, was exciting - or frightening, and a source for many poems and lyrics. Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner, and Ludwig v. Beethoven, like many of their contemporaries, spent time, a lot of time, daily on writing letters.
A handwritten letter was so much more than an email, text or post can be. On the author’s side, it was time spent, writing about what mattered enough to spend the time to write it down. It was a tangible island of peace spent in the imagination of a visit with the recipient; it was a way of disclosing intimate feelings, a way of eternalizing thoughts, a way of stating facts and describing events, characters, and perceptions.
On the recipient’s side it was a way of experiencing the author and his/her voice, thoughts, and feelings. It was time spent with the other person, alone or not. Letters were read several times, in private, even in secret, but also with company. They were read out loud to family and friends. Letters were collected, hidden, burnt, framed, and saved, which speaks volumes about the power they carried.
Are we missing out on this experience in our sterile world of laptops and tablets, where the wait for the postillion is over, and where 24/7 is standard; emails don't smell, don't weigh, and they can't be burnt (just how ever lasting these virtual exchanges are, is not yet so clear...). Does anyone save (maybe), hide (maybe), or frame (don't think so) emails?
The intensity of this bygone way of communication has leveled, but it has made way for communications with a much larger public, something Liszt, Schumann, Wagner and Beethoven would have loved to have had at their disposition. Instant reactions - no more wait. A whole new kind of excitement. We are still and always will be dealing with human interaction, which certainly has remained relatively unchanged, and which is always exciting. The way of communication has changed for sure, if for the better or worse remains to be seen.
So I guess the verdict is still out on the loss of letter writing culture, but for me it's time to write that letter!