Forsaken Handwritten Letters


| 11/21/2014 4:20:00 PM


Tags: mail, handwriting, Soli Salgado,

For the typical American household, nearly two months pass before a personalized letter sits in the mailbox among the usual catalogs and bills.

When considering the environmental drawback and informational delay linked to snail mail, sentimentality has taken a backseat to practicality. Passing doodled notes in class is riskier than a sneaky text message. Mailing love letters is far slower than a Skype or email to appease distanced relationships. And casual how’s-it-going-letters have been replaced by phone calls and pretty much everything online.

Still, there’s something irreplaceable about the pleasantly surprising handwritten letter. But from 2007 to 2013 alone, there’s been a 21 percent decrease in letter volume.

Imagine Virginia Woolf’s horror today, when in the 1940s she already mourned the decline of letter-writing in her essay, The Humane Art: “News and gossip, the sticks and straws out of which the old letter writer made his nest, have been snatched away. The wireless and the telephone have intervened. The letter writer has nothing now to build with except what is most private.” Nothing seems quite as rousingly secretive as a personalized note sealed in an envelope, federal law even protecting its content from unwarranted eyes. “The letter writer… speaks not to the public at large but to the individual in private,” she wrote—a concept that resonates in the era of mega-phonic tweets and too-revealing status updates.

Statistics, however, show this old-school deed is quickly going out of practice. One in five children in the UK has never received a handwritten letter, and one in ten has never written a letter themselves. And in the US, 150 billion letters are mailed annually, which may seem impressive until it’s compared to the 250 billion emails and 4 billion social-media messages sent daily.