Snail-mail letters, R.I.P.

And you wonder why I blog so much. This is why: It’s because people don’t write real letters anymore. This all connects with a news story I read this morning, about the decline of cursive writing. My young students had never even heard the word ‘penmanship.’

I admit,  I  don’t write long letters anymore—well, not to individual correspondents. My blogs have replaced the long heartfelt missives I used to burden my poor friends with, in the age before Twitter and Facebook. And I will continue to blog, even during my upcoming sabbatical away from writing.  If you don’t like ‘em, don’t read ‘em.

The thing that always strikes me about writers from other ages is their correspondence. In a time when long-distance telephone rates were dauntingly high, people were forced to sit down and write letters to each other. I became a prolific letter writer in college and had a number of friends I wrote to. What joy to peer into my little box at the post office and see it crammed with mail!  Love letters, of course, were the best, but my boyfriends at the time were not very literate, so I don’t have any of those, tied in a ribbon and hidden in the back of my closet. But mostly the letters I exchanged back then were long confidences, gossip, revelations, expressions of affections—is the iPhone supposed to replace all that?

Somehow, email just isn’t the same. In fact, it fills me largely with dread to scan the inbox page, which is mostly spam—despite my diligent efforts to weed it out. Any personal missives are usually distressingly brief. It feels to me—and I know I’m showing my age, revealing myself to be a cranky old crone—but it seems like we know each other so much less these days. Sharing too much of ourselves is ‘TMI,’ it’s considered weird and creepy. We may want to know everything about our favorite celebrities, but we don’t want to know that much about each other. We are more apt to get our humanity fix through TV, Netflix and movies, and not from sharing pieces of ourselves through pen and ink, then stuffing it all into an envelope with pretty postage stamps.

Most twentieth-century writers worth their salt often have companion volumes to their work, consisting solely of the letters they wrote or received. In libraries across the country, archives are devoted to housing these quaint artifacts, and with good reason. Letters reveal a lot about a writer.  Letters are essential in developing a proclivity for writing. We use (or, used to use) letters to practice our art, as part of our literary apprenticeship, So now it’s the blog instead of the personal letter. Which is fine, but lacking in intimacy and the regard inherent in personal handwritten correspondence. Still, better than nothing, I suppose. But how will all these blogs be archived, in the future? Will they endure as, the way their dead-tree ancestors often do; or are they actually just figments of the imagination, that will eventually fade into nothingness as the years pass by?

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