Several weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail. It was handwritten, thoughtful and on actual stationery. It wasn’t my birthday and the sender was not demanding ransom for anything. The banks weren’t trying to be friendlier with my student loan notices either. It was from my great Uncle Dale, a former Navy captain and current gentleman in every way. I was very pleasantly surprised to get this letter, and I wanted to take some time to chat about letters with you folks because I think they’re a dying art form that should be resurrected.
Texts, emails, Facebook messages, Snapchats, tweets, vines (right? Did I rightfully include that?) – all of these forms of communication are fantastic and nothing short of miraculous. I’m able to FaceTime with my sisters back in Pittsburgh or my friend in India by just having a phone. That is nuts. Nostradamus didn’t have the balls to predict stuff like that because it was just too unbelievable. Yet it’s a reality. Things can be transmitted across the world in seconds. It’s not only made life significantly easier, it’s also just really easy to do.
We don’t even think about it. Hell, 200 years ago, if I wanted you to read this article, I’d have to tack it to a post in the middle of town next to the saloon. Or something. I wasn’t a History major; give me a break. Now you can just click on a thing and then another thing and boom: you read a piece I wrote on a totally different computer.
All of that is grand. It allows for old friendships to be maintained more easily. Instead of looking for everyone’s house address and home phone number, you text or Facebook message them. There isn’t enough time to make phone calls to everyone you care about as consistently as you’d like, so texts and tweets are another way to communicate and care about one another.
Phone calls, though, are certainly not a lost art. Letters, however, have gone the way of the travel agent — only used by older people, but otherwise obsolete. While phone calls have been one-upped by Skype and FaceTime, letters have been ten-upped by texts and emails. So why am I fighting for the communication equivalent of the CD? Well, just like records, they’ve got merit beyond nostalgia.
Think about what you have to do to write a letter. First, you have to know the person’s address, which is a lot to ask in a time where people don’t know their partner’s cell phone number. Then, you have to sit down and get some lined paper/stationery/newspaper with a coat of whiteout on it. Find a pen and, here comes the big part, have something to say. Write a thoughtful letter to the person you care about, spend the 50 cents to slap a stamp on an envelope and find a mailbox. Sent.
It says a lot to the person you’re writing to that you’re willing to spend the time to compose a letter via the extremely slow (i.e. not electronic) method of hand-writing and then spend some money on sending it. Fifty cents isn’t “nothing;” especially when those two quarters could go to parking meters or laundry.
Also, how great does it feel to get a letter that isn’t a bill? Fantastic, right? It feels special to get a non-advertisement in your mailbox, so why not be a neat friend and do that for someone else?
Or do it for a stranger. Do it for anyone and strike up a correspondence. A relative, a friend, a random person in Biloxi, Mississippi — it’ll feel good for you and your recipient.
So sit the hell down and write a letter to a person you love or just want to talk to. No excuses. It’ll make their day and probably yours, too.
Bennett Rea is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. A survivalist with various primitive skills and a distrust of Snapchat, he’s just trying to be a human in an increasingly technological world. He also works at an art gallery on one of the country’s trendiest retail blocks and constantly battles the urge to flee for a cabin in the mountains filled with books and bourbon.