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  #1  
Old 01-13-2010, 01:15 PM
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Default Letter Writing


My New Year's resolution was to keep in better touch with friends and family through letter writing.

I email most of them on a semi-regular basis, but it's not the same. If the medium is the message, than an email says "I'm keeping in touch lightly, sending you links and random thoughts during my day, but not digging too deep". A letter says "I'm keeping in touch earnestly, taking the time to write by hand (legibly!), and pay for stamps". An email gets read then deleted (or archived or forwarded or something); a letter gets held in the hands, tucked away, and read again. A letter is like a hand in yours, while an email can feel like a nod from across the room. Even if the text is the same, a letter says more, because it has your handwriting and doodles and whatnot. It is concrete. Of course, the text is rarely the same... we say different things when we think we're creating something permanent. And we say different things when we know they'll arrive in days rather than an instant.

So far, I've sent letters to my brother and two friends. I'm working on more, for other family members. From my side of things, I find it a wonderful thing. I enjoy the thought of the person I am writing to and imagining their surprise when getting it. So far, my letters have been very basic in format: ruled paper and plain envelopes. (I'd like nice stationary, but it's not essential!) I write about what comes to mind, what's going on in my life, and what makes me think of the other person. I imagine the person is standing there and I'm talking to them, and so the tone of the letter reflects our relationship.

I don't ask many questions because I don't want anyone to feel like they have to write back. Not everyone has time to reply, and it's easy to get distracted and forget, then feel bad later if you think the person's been waiting for your answer. I don't want people stressing; I'm giving a gift, not a burden. If they want to reply, yay! Or they can call or email, or just smile and do nothing. No obligation.

Reactions have been good as well. One friend called me ecstatically to say she got it--real mail instead of a bill!--and she was replying at that moment, so I should check my mailbox in two days or so. (That was two days ago, so I'm looking forward to getting home today. ) My brother hasn't said anything, but then, he wouldn't. He might reply, though! Other family members know of my resolution and say they're looking forward to letters this year!

We all do plenty of writing for ourselves, so writing for others isn't too hard! In fact, I've found it refreshing and rewarding. I encourage you to try it! How it feels may surprise you, and the letter will certainly surprise them.

If you're already a letter writer, let me know how it works for you! How long have you been doing it? Any tips?

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Old 01-13-2010, 03:07 PM
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Sometimes I send things in the mail. Contracts and returns to online sellers and such. I think when I was just a young 'un I wrote some letters to government officials as part of a school assignment. That explains why men with sunglasses seem to be around every street corner today.

But I'm afraid that my epistolary life has been, so far, limited to novels written in that form Partly because my handwriting is illegible unless I take inordinate amounts of time crafting it; that ties into the other part: I just don't have the time right now. It's a great thought, though, and I've had similar ones myself, usually after reading things like Doing our Own Thing by John McWhorter or Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. The written word even in the form of text typed on computers is being replaced by more oral/visual forms of communication. Writing by hand is all but dead. Yet it takes a lot more thought to set something down when you're writing something by hand. My typing speed is about 75 WPM according to a test I just took, and composing something I'm probably more in the thirties or forties. Handwriting, I'm sure I'm much slower than that. You're more inclined to think through what you say before you say it--perhaps a mental outline first. As I write this post I'm writing things as they come to me, which is just about as fast as my fingers can type. You're getting something closer to stream-of-consciousness observations than a carefully-planned argument. I would take more care to be sure that what I was saying was what I wanted to say if I had to take the time and put the work into writing it.

But life moves faster today. Computers and other technologies double in efficiency something like every eighteen months. A handwritten lifestyle just couldn't survive, because humans are expected to at least try to keep up with the machines. I'm victim of this speedy culture--I don't have time to handwrite something because I'm typing all the time. About the only thing I handwrite are outlines and ideas for stories and such. Also poetry... I can't write poetry on a computer. Feels wrong.

And that is why I don't write letters. That and the postage could get expensive But you've made me think about it... perhaps I'll find the time to slam out a few lines in relatively legible chicken-scratch next time I'm stuck with a pen and paper and nothing to do.
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Old 01-13-2010, 03:11 PM
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Emails are cheaper, faster, better, at least for me.

I do, however, always send paper cards. I hate electronic cards.
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Old 01-13-2010, 03:54 PM
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Letter writing is a wonderful thing, but unless you have someone who will engage in it with you, it can be an exercise in futility.

As someone who hates talking on the telephone, I used to write long, rambling letters to everyone in my immediate family. (I moved to another country many years ago, so all of my family are overseas.) They used to reply, and I still have most of their letters stored neatly in a binder so I can read them again and remind myself of the things that happened, good and bad. We also spoke on the phone for birthdays and holidays, but in the babble of voices and hurried conversations, I rarely remembered much of what was said. That's where the letters came in handy.

After a while, I noticed that they preferred to send their letters via email. A proper letter in the post is far nicer, but I was happy to use email as well, if it was their preference. Again, I would write letters that might be three or four printed pages in length. Theirs were usually shorter, but I didn't mind; it was the staying in touch that was important.

Then their messages started getting shorter, and less frequent. I still carried on sending e-letters (and the occasional paper letter), and always responded to their messages within a day or two. I made mine shorter, thinking that the length was too daunting. I even continued to write when no one replied at all.

But for all the vaunted advantages of email over snail mail, contact has now dwindled to the point where I get one or two brief emails a year. That's not one or two from each person; it's one or two from all of them combined. Curiously, when they do write, they always mention that they haven't heard from me, as though I am somehow delinquent in my filial duties.

This means I now have hardly any contact with them at all. Curiously, I don't much mind. Long periods of hearing nothing from them has preserved them in my memory as they were when I last saw each of them. And I suppose they think of me in much the same way, as the person they used to know, caught in time like a fly in amber. On the rare occasions I hear from them, it's like talking to a distant relation. I know so little about their current lives, and they about mine, that we tend to talk about petty nonsense, things of no consequence.

It used to bother me, this lack of contact, but I've stopped caring now. But I do miss the pleasure I found in writing and receiving letters. Alas.
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Old 01-13-2010, 05:48 PM
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I miss writing letters, definitely. But as Q said, you'd be lucky to have people reply you. Older/or same aged people might reply, but they might not. Younger people would send a email detailing their confusion.

I wrote a letter to myself when I was young, over a period of a few years. I actually forgot about it until somewhat more after my deadline. Yet when I read it, I could remember almost everything. Because something you write in letters... it assimilates. And you remember it.

Honestly, with the computer, my handwriting has deteriorated considerably; and it's not just me. It's something I find a bit a regrettable.

Write to me! @ synonymouswords@gmail.com. <--- yep, everything's email now.

(okay, don't email that, I was kidding)
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Old 01-13-2010, 08:57 PM
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I used to write letters to my sister and one of my close friends, but somehow that stopped. I'm sure that they would reply if I were to send them a letter again, though. Maybe I should. I miss it

Other than that, I keep in touch via e-mail. People always go 'oh, it's so good to hear from you!' when I send them a long mail informing them about things going on in my life and asking specific questions about their own, but I'd be quite surprised if any of them took the initiative to write first. We will exchange mails for a period of time, and then it will die away again. And then it will start up again when I feel I haven't spoken to them in too long. It does show who I really want to talk to, though - some of them I just leave be.
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Old 01-14-2010, 03:08 AM
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I console myself with letters addressed to; Dear Resident or Dear Occupant. Though faceless they might be it's always nice to see the human touch applied to the importance of, "three months of free programming if you act now" or "hurry while supplies last."

Though tempted to respond I fear I would only be disappointed in the long run.
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Old 01-14-2010, 09:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands View Post
After a while, I noticed that they preferred to send their letters via email. A proper letter in the post is far nicer, but I was happy to use email as well, if it was their preference. Again, I would write letters that might be three or four printed pages in length. Theirs were usually shorter, but I didn't mind; it was the staying in touch that was important.

Then their messages started getting shorter, and less frequent. I still carried on sending e-letters (and the occasional paper letter), and always responded to their messages within a day or two. I made mine shorter, thinking that the length was too daunting. I even continued to write when no one replied at all.
I can relate to both sides of this! When I first got email, I send long, letter-like messages to people and got similar replies. We were applying the letter-writing mindset to the new technology. But the medium does influence the message. That email is instant leads us to treat it lighter, commit less serious stuff to it. So, with time, my emails got shorter and shorter, as did the replies, and now sometimes just consist of a subject line saying "This is funny" and a YouTube link in the message. Ironically, as time passes and your main contact with a person is limited to sharing links or off-hand comments, with no depth to them, you start to feel like you don't really know them. Connectivity without connection. Then you fall out of touch because it doesn't seem worth it.

Winterbite, I just finished Amusing Ourselves to Death; thanks for the recommendation!
Postman talks a great deal about the folly of thinking that you can use a new technology for the old purpose and not lose/gain something. There is no exact translation. While some people take the Luddite, don't-use-the-new-way stance, and others say "out with the old", I fall in the middle. I'm not interested in reviving the handwritten culture of long ago, because I see great benefits to typing and modern communication. But I want to reclaim the handwriting mindset of giving people something personal and using words for serious communication. I choose letter-writing because people love getting letters and pay attention to them, but often skim lengthy emails.

There are ways of using modern technology to create meaningful stuff, as long as we go in mindfully. An example: When I lived with my parents and siblings, I used to use MS Word to create a faux newspaper called The Family Tribune (only for "family" I used our surname). I'd take the events of our lives, little things like wisdom teeth coming in and big things like international travel, and write silly journalism-style articles about them. I'd invent "experts" on any given field to give quotes, and I had punny headlines. Then I'd print them out and put them on the fridge, where they quickly got read and became fodder for more in-jokes and fun. I wasn't actually saying anything new, but I was saying that I paid attention to things and enjoyed sharing them with family. My mom got such a kick out of them that she saved them for a scrapbook page.

So using the computer doesn't degrade communication unless we let it. (The generally literate and interesting conversations here on this forum show that.) If your handwriting is like some undeciphered language, you could do the reader a favor and type a letter, then personalize it with fun doodles or something. Blend the technological with the personal. People get that in the mail and know you took time. (Just don't make it a boasting, year in review thing and send it to everyone. Cheesy!)

I love reading collections of correspondence between people in the past. John and Abigail Adams' letters, Abelard and Heloise, etc. I wonder how people in the future will know our personal histories? Email transcripts? Lordy lordy, people will think we have nothing to say but "This is funny"! With links to by then defunct content on the web.
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Old 01-14-2010, 03:24 PM
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New technology doesn't automatically squash good content, of course; it just invites abuse. Exactly what you said: it doesn't degrade communication unless you let it. Your idea of typing a letter and doodling on it is actually pretty appealing... I am a compulsive doodler. At my church we have sticky notes beside a filing cabinet by the kitchen area. I write a comic strip about squirrels on the notes and stick a new one up every Sunday. People have learned that when I sign a guestbook, they are saying goodbye to a whole page

So, I posted yesterday, and today you finished Amusing Ourselves to Death? Got some time on your hands lately?

In a way, perhaps e-mails have even enhanced letters--significance-wise, at least. Today, when you get a personal letter, you darn well pay attention. Back when it was more or less a matter of course, a letter was just a letter--now it's become something more special.

Q: A fellow phone-hater? I cannot talk on phones. Face-to-face I'm fine; in writing I'm better, but it's way harder for me when faced with communicating with a faceless voice. I'd rather write a letter than talk on the phone, personally. You bring up a great point with your folder of letters--with computers, we can move our e-mails to a different folder, but sooner or later they get deleted. They're just so many bytes and bits, after all. Letters you save will be there for a long time.
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Old 01-14-2010, 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Winterbite View Post
Q: A fellow phone-hater? I cannot talk on phones. Face-to-face I'm fine; in writing I'm better, but it's way harder for me when faced with communicating with a faceless voice. I'd rather write a letter than talk on the phone, personally. You bring up a great point with your folder of letters--with computers, we can move our e-mails to a different folder, but sooner or later they get deleted. They're just so many bytes and bits, after all. Letters you save will be there for a long time.
Always hated them and I avoid using them as much as possible. With emails, if I remember to print them they get filed with the letters. Well, the longer ones, the ones with substance do. The ones that are only a paragraph of empty chatter (got yours, been busy, will write soon) just get filed in an email folder.

Like the sound of your squirrel cartoon. Nice idea.
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Old 01-14-2010, 05:37 PM
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I had over 2000 images in my (deleted) inbox. Or whatever it's called - anyway, I had some real gems there, but it took me quite a few hours to delete these and store the others.

It's not worth it. Methinks that, after all, penpals grace our presence. In a good way.
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Old 01-15-2010, 06:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Winterbite View Post
So, I posted yesterday, and today you finished Amusing Ourselves to Death? Got some time on your hands lately?
Lol! Not so much, actually! I'm swamped at work and home. But you mentioned it weeks ago in the "What are you reading" thread and I picked it up from the library. Have you read The Medium is the Massage, by Marshall McLuhan? That's next on my list.
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Old 01-15-2010, 11:53 AM
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Didn't Postman recommend McLuhan several times? I may have to check him out. I completely forgot about recommending him previous
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