The Forgotten Art of Handwritten Letters
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
"You got mail," an expression that most people from the nineties will remember from the introduction of AOL Internet services & Email and made even more famous by the 1998 romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Person-to-person communication has come a long way since homing pigeons, telegrams, and home phones. In the last twenty years technology has changed how we communicate with our friends and family. We were introduced to cellular phones and texting, and now we have instant messaging and video calling. We can see our friends and family without even leaving our house. It's great, but not very personal.
In the ever-changing channels of communications, it seems as though one of the most personal channels of communication has been forgotten, the handwritten letter. Everything has become digitized to the point that cursive writing has been removed from many school curriculums. People would rather send a text than take the time to hand-write a letter, buy postage, and then run to the post office to mail it. That seems like a lot of work just to say, “hello” or “thank you,” and it is, which is what makes it so beautiful. Is there anything more personal than a personalized, handwritten, physical document? I would argue that there isn’t.
If you’re like me, you probably have a little box stored away filled with handwritten letters and cards of all sorts (or perhaps some old love letters) from some of your dearest friends and family. If they weren’t so personal, they probably wouldn’t be worth holding on to. Some letters are so personal to people that they destroy them for closure after a bad break-up or falling out. By now, if you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering why I keep carrying on about the personalization of handwritten letters.
Well, the fact of the matter is that in our current state of events with social distancing and isolation, we need personalized connections more than ever. Not to mention, the United Postal Service will be grateful for your business. Handwriting letters can be a great distraction from the negative energy of social media. I can’t speak for you, but my mind and mental health appreciates a break from all the chaos. Something is gratifying about putting your heart and soul into something personal for another person. Writing letters can even be calming to the nerves, it inspires creativity, it stimulates brain engagement, and it can even ease depression along with anxiety making handwriting an overall healthy activity (Silver, n.d.).
Aside from all of those great benefits, it's exciting to receive a letter in the mail! Especially when you’re not expecting one. I must be honest the art of handwriting letters was forgotten to me until my friend Derek reminded me of their beauty and magical powers to bring people together. About a week into the shelter in place orders, Derek decided that he wanted to write letters and become penpals with people, so he posted on his social media that he would hand-write a letter to anyone that wanted one. This was such a fantastic idea that it inspired me to send personalized and handmade postcards to anyone that wanted them.
Of course, Derek was the first to request one of my postcards and then a few other people requested them. So I went to work hand-drawing the cards and writing personal notes to each person. Once the first batch was done I walked to the Post Office to mail them (another health benefit, walking) and learned something new, the Post Office makes stamps specifically for postcards. When it was all said and done, I made a few different batches of the postcards, and the people that received them enjoyed them, which was fulfilling enough to me, but a week after I sent out the first batch of postcards I unexpectedly received a letter from Derek which made my day fantastic. Now I have another beautiful personalized letter to add to my collection of writings!
From Charles Darwin’s ideas of evolution and natural selection to Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail, the hand-written letter has a rich history dating back to 500 B.C. filled with love letters from kings to official letters from great leaders (Pen Heaven, n.d.). It would be a shame for this wonderful art form to be lost due to technology. I have since been sending more personalized letters and cards to my friends and family. I encourage you to follow Derek’s lead to find a penpal to write, send a letter to an old friend, or perhaps send your mother a dazzling card for Mother’s Day. Now go and as they say, “put your pen to paper.”