Waiting with us on Fifth Avenue, and 42nd Street, Manhattan Street corner, was a well-dressed, elderly woman and a teenage girl, the girl, dressed in jeans and tee-shirt, presumedly, her granddaughter. We couldn’t avoid overhearing the following portion of their conversation, “…so why don’t you write your boyfriend a letter of explanation? usefully suggested the grandmother.” The young girl emphatically replied, “What? grandma! Nobody writes letters, anymore!” What motivated this writing is a recollection of this verbal exchange and the renewed sense that a similar response would be predictable from the mainstream American citizen.
We may have written in excess, about the tragic loss of the universally needed contact with a recognizable voice, and its familiar nuance of expression, as compared with the unnatural limitations to expression, lost by the [universal] use of electronic transmissions of digital symbols onto a small, lighted screen. Yet, thinking retrospectively, we seem to have given relatively short shrift to the most aesthetic, expressive, and personalized, albeit the least facile, mode of societal communication, namely, letter correspondence; most especially, those that are handwritten. The salutary, aesthetic, and intimate practice of the latter mode of communication, is far more valuable, despite, or perhaps, because it is less facile, and time consumingly written, in a familiar, nuanced, and identifiable hand.
We mourn the apparent passing of the uniquely personal practice of handwritten letters, [as well as those, somewhat less nuanced, produced by typewriter] which generally, to our discernment, affirmatively signals a major loss to man’s interactive need for mutually affirmed and recognizable identity. Its substitution by impersonal data-like electronic symbols, unmistakably reveals the insensitive hardening of contemporary society, in its costly and short-sighted, universal preference for ease and efficiency, over human individualized, expression.
There is almost a palpable pleasure and a feeling of anticipation in unexpectedly finding in the mailbox, a handwritten letter from a familiar sender. Before unsealing the envelope, there is the empirical acknowledgment, that the writer had personally taken the time to transcribe chosen words, on a selected paper, sign, and enclose them in a stamped envelope, personally addressed to you. The recalled, familiar handwriting, by its conversational style and, possibly, familiar stationery, recall the image, style of speech and the singular persona of the writer. Perhaps the most rewarding feeling is the recognition that the writer valued the relationship sufficiently, to have undertaken the effort of writing the letter to you. Memorable letters, including, in some instances, written by subsequently deceased and revered persons, can be kept, and later, re-read, with the sense of a present mutual conversation.
Our modern, profit-oriented, industrialized, society, in the responsible and existential interest of the preservation of societal and mindful humanity, should wisely and rationally, elect to exempt handwritten letters from its recent ubiquitous, and apparently insatiable, appetite for efficiency.