Writing real letters-an afternoon of slow correspondence
Correspondence is changing. What did you last get through the post? A bill-although most of these are now paper free…? Junk mail? Test results? Think back. How often nowadays do we receive real, personal mail?
When did you last receive a letter? A real, handwritten, proper letter, with thoughts and musings and real feeling, written by a real person, just for you? I wrack my brains trying to think of when I last got a letter through the postbox. I think it may have been when I was about 15, from a French pen-pal. (I still remember she used to send me Backstreet Boys pictures from French teen mags. I used to send her ones of Taylor Hanson. Those were the days).
The price of stamps
We moan about the rising cost of posting a letter. But we all know someone who’s worthy of the price of a stamp, an envelope, some writing paper. How would you feel receiving a letter? Think of this person now. How would they feel? In this age of insta-messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, communication has somehow become devalued. We don’t think twice about sharing anything and everything for the whole world to see. All of our friends can find out everything we’ve been up to in the click of a mouse button-whether we want them too or not.
What happened to the excitement of telling somebody about a special event? It’s lost, overtaken by the quick, 140-character buzz, the instant feedback. The problem is, the responses we get online are diluted. A ‘like’ takes nothing. Void of emotion, a blank button-press is beginning to serve as our social interaction. Isn’t this a dangerous thing?
Sure, the internet is ‘free’. The broadband direct debit disappears from our accounts each month, and we continue to click and like and click and like. Personality is shelved, hidden behind online personas. Quick wall posts and link shares. A text or two. To quote Dr Evil…It’s the “Diet Coke” of interaction. It’s the “Diet Coke” of friendship.
The Facebook ‘birthday reminder’ and why it’s the downfall of humanity
Those 50 birthday messages on your Facebook wall? Look at them honestly. How many people would truly know it was your birthday if you hid that information? I don’t have my birthday info on Facebook. I hardly get any messages. Sadface. But I’m guilty of it myself, using my smartphone to link to Facebook and populate my calender with birthdays of people I hardly know. It gives me the option to write on their wall with one press of a button. How impersonal is that? We don’t have to make any effort any more. I have extra love for my friends who send me real, funny, physical cards. But should I be feeling they’ve made an extra effort-or should I expect it as a given? We used to know when our friend’s birthdays were. Now we don’t even need to try to remember, because some item of technology will undoubtedly tell us.
A step-by-step to making someone’s day
Save some information, away from social media. Even if it’s just a new band you’ve discovered, a book you’ve read, something you’ve learned. Include it in your letter. Somewhere you’ve been, something that happened to you. A favourite poem or a quote. Make it personal.
My favourite thing about sending a letter is the fun you can have. You can send something beautiful (such as Oh Comely Magazine’s swapbox project from 2013). You can make a cd. Illustrate a picture. Make something small. Or large. My mum once sent me an entire chocolate crunch cake in a jiffy bag. It was both impressive and delicious. It made my week. I still talk about it. (I mean, come on).
When I decided to embrace slow correspondence, I found it hard to think of what to write. I’d become so used to sharing my life in minute detail through social media over many years. What was left to say? What could I write that somebody didn’t already know about me? I had all the time and all the space in the world. I wasn’t restricted by a character limit. My eyes weren’t staring at the glow of my mac screen. It’s real, it’s organic, it’s connection across a distance, but when writing, the distance is somehow more real. I imagined my letter, winging its way over the miles. What was important enough for it to contain? Would it bring smiles or indifference?
I’ve tried over the years to start to write more to people. I’ve even been asked if I was feeling okay, told that it was a ‘funny phase’. Online interaction has become so commonplace that for some people it was just, well, bizarre to receive a real letter. Thankfully though, since then, everyone has been extra happy to receive a ‘proper’ letter.
Correspondence and minimalism
What’s the more minimal way of communicating? Is it by computer or smartphone-meaning you only need one item of tech (and it can be an iPad or a Macbook if you’re a flash minimalist)? Or is it the humble paper and pen and envelope? 3 whole items needed, plus a stamp?
I rightly or not, believe the old-fashioned way is more minimal. I truly believe that the onslaught of information is overwhelming in the digital age. It might only need one tablet, but the sheer amount of tweets and posts and photos make the digital way, for me, way too impersonal. I’m not one for counting items. I prefer to think of the intentionality behind it.
Writing, physically writing, with a beautiful pen and lovely paper, is more intentional. It’s easier to be mindful of what you are creating. Easier to think and really feel the words you craft. You can get lost in the moment, feeling the pen between your fingers, the soft brush of the paper beneath your hand. Smell the ink. Dust off any residual carbon from pencil marks.
A letter can take hours, or it can take days. It’s personal to you. Think about what to include. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short paragraph or a 6-page epic. I can guarantee that the person receiving it will be pleasantly surprised.
Slow down. Communication is not always better at lightning speed. The rise of ‘slow journalism’ is showing more and more people want a real analysis, a new angle, a real perspective on what is happening, not just in the news, but afterwards and in everyday lives.
Bring back some thought and depth to interactions. Remember, really remember, people’s special days. Make ‘making an effort’ the norm. Increase the value of your interactions.
It shouldn’t be an effort to make an effort.
What’s the best thing you’ve received in the post? When did you last receive a proper letter? Let me know in the comments below!