The forgotten art of letter writing for the digital generation

Over the decades, as the modes of communication evolved, we slowly moved from postcards, telegrams and inner letters to phone calls, WhatsApp, emails, Instagram, video calls and a whole new version of “telegram”.

No one can be blamed for the disappearance of the traditional telegram, since it was a purely functional format of instant communication, which phone calls and WhatsApp covered much more effectively. But, with technology, while messages today are delivered much faster, even today, there is no such effective medium as a handwritten letter when it comes to capturing emotions. Letters aren’t just about nostalgia. There is that and much more for them.

Letter writing: Today, letters are a novelty.

Until around the 70s or 80s, people wrote letters to a lot of people, as a hobby or just to communicate, because there weren’t many other options. Fortunately, today we can choose to write only to the most special people in our lives. Because a handwritten letter takes time, which is rare in this fast-paced world, which makes it all the more valuable.

50 years ago, letters from loved ones were special. Today, among all the rest, they are still special, in fact all the more special that they are now a novelty.

No cut, copy, paste.

Writing a letter is a very different experience compared to exchanging messages with the same person. You have it at the center of your attention. And you think long and hard before you put your words on paper. Because you don’t want to look messy and scratch words. You don’t have freedom to delete, cut, copy, paste. You need to structure things much more clearly in your head before writing them down. It’s also a good idea to keep the phone away, to avoid distractions.

And at the end of the letter, you’ll notice that what comes out on paper is very different from what you typically write to the same person on the phone.

Postcards against messages

Writing letters to friends and family, mostly until the 90s, was a meaningful way to bond and be creative. Use different colored pens or make a small sketch, like a work of art. And adding special pads of your choice. Or send a postcard from a trip.

It was very different from today’s Instagram post. They each have their own goal. On Instagram, you share it with the world. On a postcard, you share it with a specific person and remind them that you were thinking of them at that time. And, of course, there’s no rule that you can’t do both!

It’s only when you write that someone gets a letter.

And when you write a bunch of letters, you start getting them too.

Receiving letters specially addressed to you is so joyful! And you don’t necessarily have to write long letters. Even little sticky notes to make the next person smile can be a wonderful gesture. Whether it’s an expression of love to your spouse in your own home, or a note of thanks to your colleague, or the waiter who served you delicious food, it all counts! And the thing is, everyone loves getting a letter/note on their behalf. But if we all stop writing, no one will ever receive anything.

You can touch it, smell it, smell it!

The physicality of the letters is undeniable and incomparable. Although there may be thousands of font options, each handwriting is unique. And sometimes not only your thoughts but even your DNA travels with your letter when you lick and stick that stamp on the envelope! Another seemingly mundane but unique thing, if you think about it, is that you can switch to a different language anytime within a letter, and freely doodle or scribble around it in any direction, make cuts and folds as desired. You can play with it much more conveniently.

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There are also fewer letters, so you tend to keep them somewhere safe, while special messages can easily get lost in the digital clutter. We can again browse the letters at leisure to rekindle memories. Because the written word has a special meaning and touches our emotional chords.

Letters capture feelings like no other means of communication. That’s what they are, a medium. Just like all of its other digital counterparts. And if people have already written and received a letter, they will know when to choose it. It’s about matching the message to the medium. Some things are best said in a quick WhatsApp message, others in a long call. And some can only be done justice by a letter.

Shivani Mehta is the co-founder of Daakroom. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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