Friday, September 03, 2004

RIP Snail Mail - Not So Fast

The Christian Science Monitor yesterday published a piece entitled In an electronic age, the letter endures. It's ironic that I'm using a blog to discuss paper-based communication. But the truth is we are in the process of losing something very important in our move from snail mail to electronic-based forms of interaction.

Yes, it is true that e-mail and its companion technologies facilitate a volume and speed of interaction that physical media will never even approach. It is also true that lower barriers to entry - namely cost-per-message and reduced logistical requirements to get said message from point A to point B - open up the possibility of communicating with folks who otherwise would have never heard from you.

But the immediacy of e-mail makes for an obvious dilution in the quality of our messaging. Compare the typical e-mail (or worse, instant message) of today with a letter from years ago. Letters forced us to sit up straight and think about what we said and how we said it. E-mail has turned us all into vocabulary-and-grammar-challenged slackers.

Beyond mere textbook knowledge and application of the language, the attics of tomorrow will have no shoeboxes filled with letters. Actual paper and ink represent a physical connection to the person who wrote you. No inbox can ever be as rich. And even if you think it is, and you want to burn your e-mail correspondence onto CD for posterity, the computers of tomorrow likely won't be able to read them anyway.

Technology advances every day. I'm not sure we're advancing along with it.


carmilevy said...

E-mailed thank you notes are beyond gauche. They're the height of tackiness - surpassed only by not sending a thank you note at all (My wife and I are still waiting for one from a wedding we attended, like, 14 years ago...and she was a bridesmaid!)

Seriously, there will always be room in my home for great pens, great paper, and a quiet place to take them out and use them to write something nice. Thanks for sharing a great image.

Kate said...

Hand-written letters may not be as common, but now weblogs are the letters some people write.