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.


xxxx said...

I love sitting down with a page of heavy stationery and a nice fountain pen. There is something wonderfully elegant about writing a proper letter. I never send thank-you notes by email. If someone took the trouble to give me a present, I feel compelled to give them the incomparable delight of a hand-written note.

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.

Anonymous said...

I love stationery. I love writing thank you notes. It's not dead yet!! :)


Wheelson said...

Email has taken quite a bit of the formality out of writing that is for sure. However, think of it this way...if email and IM make sending information easy then all the "easy" information will be sent that way. For example, if I need to tell my Dad about some new Coffee at Starbucks that he must try I can shoot him an email. That leaves the important information capable of being transmitted via snail mail.

That would mean since all the fleeting mundane thoughts are communicated via email, the timeless thoughts are left to be captured using a medium that still reflects, now more than 10 years ago, just how special those thoughts are.

Kate said...

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

Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

I love writing christmas cards, and thank you cards, and all that. But what I find really handy about pen and paper, is when I am writing. Especially when I am struggling with a character. Heading to a notepad and escaping the computer is my solution.

I don't sketch out the character in a portrait, but I can see them develop as I write carefully and slowly, or rapidly getting down details I don't want to forget.

The pen is not dead.