Has the digital age killed the post? Recently the absolutely lovely Rachel Faith Cox sent me (in the mail) Simon Garfield's latest book, To the Letter, and I have just started reading it. In this book, Garfield likens the post to the paddle steamer.
"The digitisation of communication has effected dramatic changes in our lives, but the impact on letter-writing - so gradual and so fundamental - has slipped by like an English summer. Something that has been crucial to our economic and emotional well-being since ancient Greece has been slowly evaporating for two decades, and in two more the licking of a stamp will seem as antiquated to a future generation as the paddle steamer. You can still travel by paddle steamer, and you can still send a letter, but why would you want to when the alternatives are so much faster and more convenient?"
But To the Letter, he says, is an attempt to provide a positive answer to that question.
"It is a celebration of what has gone before, and the value we place on literacy, good thinking and thinking ahead," he says. And, in a sentiment I find quite lovely, "I wonder if it is not also a book about kindness." Garfield wants to celebrate "the post, the envelope, a pen, a slower cerebral whirring, the use of the whole of our hands and not just the tips of our fingers."
I love that concept, and it rings true for me. Each letter I write to blog readers takes me a lot of time, and I definitely use my whole hand. But I'm not used to writing long-hand any more. My hand cramps up, my cursive is appalling. I am always amazed to learn that people can actually decipher what I've written. My hand can't keep up with my mind, and my thoughts and ideas race ahead of my pen until things become jumbled and lost. Sometimes, this manifests in blotches and crossings-out and other evidences of a little bit of emergency editing. Other times, I catch myself in time. I slow down, breathe, and write more consciously.
And it's not just the writing of the letter. I use my whole hands to put together the collection of little things I put inside my mail: old stamps, tea leaves, a book, whatever I'm sending at the time. With my whole hands I wrap the parcels in brown paper, draw and paint the address and pictures, wrap the whole thing in string. In one hand I hold a stick of red wax and in the other I hold a lit match, dripping the wax in an ever-growing circle at the point where the string is tied off. As I press the seal with my initial into the hot wax, I press with two whole hands.
Every letter I send is a slow, tactile and personal activity. It takes me a long time, and I find it quite meditative. Therapeutic, even. I love it.
What about you. Do you like to write letters?