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marinelife's avatar

Do you mourn the loss of the letter as a form of communication?

Asked by marinelife (57985 points ) October 16th, 2012

I love letters. I love epistolary novels (84 Charing Cross Road, anyone?). I treasure letters from my grandmother and from my father, both gone now more than 30 years.

I still remember the 20— and 30-page letters that I exchanged with close women friends for years. We covered every conceivable subject.

Somehow emails, lacking salutations and sign-offs often, are not the same. After all, you can’t wander away from your computer and come back a couple of days later to finish after you’ve thought about things a bit more (OK, I know, drafts, but who uses those?)

I can’t believe that letters went away in my adult lifetime. How sad. How have letters been important to you and do you miss them?

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27 Answers

Seek's avatar

In high school (ten years ago) my friends and I wrote letters back and forth instead of writing emails or IM-ing, or talking on the phone. We were all big Tolkien fans, and had a years-long roleplaying game going. My name was Nostariel Thranduilien, sister to Legolas Greenleaf. I wrote on tanned paper with green ink and my handmade goosefeather quill pen, sealed all my envelopes with stamped wax, and mailed the letters all the way to “Niadaen’s” house two miles away. The mailman LOVED us. We’d write letters to each other daily, in various forms, sometimes from different characters and in weird handwriting. Once she mailed me a plastic easter egg. Awesome.

Oh, and for all his trouble we fattened him up well with Lembas and chocolate chip cookies around Christmas.

jca's avatar

I like letters for the primary source of history that they are. I also treasure letters from my grandmother and other friends I had when I was younger. Just to have something with someone’s handwriting on it means so much more than an email in a font that can be deleted and discarded when we’re finished with it.

mazingerz88's avatar

I mourn it because it directly affects the use of human languages. When we are not forced to think about what we write and how we write it, the grammar of the language deteriorates. We do not respect it as much. We don’t do any real writing. We just spit out thoughts.

marinelife's avatar

@Lightlyseared I’m sorry for you.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Yes, I do. I had several correspondences with numerous friends going, and it was such a treat to receive a letter. The matter could be extravagant or mundane. It didn’t matter.

I have several regular email exchanges going, and we use the salutations and endings that letters did. The end of paper-based correspondence doesn’t necessarily mean the end of good etiquette.

tom_g's avatar

Not at all. Email is far superior to written letters in every possible way, in my opinion.

Sure, I have received my share of paper letters in the past (prior to email), but I have no idea where they are and they are likely gone forever. With email, I have searchable, instantly-indexed communication from everyone I care about at my fingertips at all times. And there are multiple backups of it all.

jca's avatar

Receiving email is nothing like receiving a letter in the mailbox.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Yes indeed. From a personal aspect, I prefer e-mail. It is much faster and gets a task done. On the other hand, personally written notes hold a greater value. It is not only due to that they take more effort, but in the fact that, if kept, there is a historical aspect attached to it.

Of my eight nieces and nephews, about half of them write thank-you notes or send postcards from their travels. Two will send an e-mail. The other two say nothing. For those that send correspondence in a physically written format, it is kept in a folder with their name on it. Once sent to them, I hope it will be considered as a tribute to their chosen way of communicating, as well as a reminder of their life when it was written. It has much more impact today than it does in the past.

Shippy's avatar

Yes very much so . I have had, in the past many letters, some written on onion skin paper or some romantic type of papers. I have letters from my mother, which I cannot read right now. But more than that, I miss opening the post box and seeing letters there. Bulky, newsy with different sizes of envelope as well as different colors. You could even smell the person who had written them sometimes. I once asked my father to write me a “long” letter. He was abroad and he did, it was written on a till slip roll, thus very long!

You could also tell a lot about a person by the handwriting too!

jordym84's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr‘s story brought the following story to mind: when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, the Portuguese government started putting out an educational magazine that was sent to all the Lusophone countries and given out at school. In it there was a section where school-aged kids could send in a letter telling a bit about themselves, their families, culture, interests, etc, and other kids who read the magazine could write them back to the address they provided. I submitted an entry and was featured in the magazine and within two weeks of the magazine being out, I started receiving letters with pictures from kids from countries like Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Germany, Guinea-Bissau, Luxembourg, Portugal, Australia, etc. It was really cool and I got to learn a lot about their cultures and I loved telling them about what had been going on at school and about my life on the island. I did this for quite a few years and had many regular penpals from all over the world, until I moved to the US.

So yes, I definitely mourn the loss of this form of communication because I have nothing but good memories of it.

Pandora's avatar

Yes, I miss receiving them and even writing them. My penmanship has gone to hell along with my spelling. Spell check has made me lazy.

cookieman's avatar

I’d like to say ‘yes’, but in practice… not really.

I never received many letters to begin with, so I don’t have much to miss.

I do have a pet peeve about omitting salutations, closings, signatures, etc. from eMail.

I always write eMails in standard letter form – maybe a little more casual.

I hate when I receive an eMail that just says something like:

Meeting at 3. On stuff.
• mike

I always write full sentences. And please, no txtspk.

Sunny2's avatar

I don’t really miss it. When it was the only way to communicate besides the phone (and long distance was very expensive) It was a chore to write. In college I had to write a letter a month to my folks or I wouldn’t get my allowance. I was too busy to want to sit and reflect on what I’d been doing during the previous month.
E-mail is great because you can write just a few lines and that’s usually sufficient to get your message across.

wundayatta's avatar

Hmmm. Well, I never handwrote letters. I always used the typewriter. I used to type them in Word, print them out and send them. Well, Wordperfect. Wordstar before that. That was an advance because if I made a mistake I could fix it before I printed it.

When email came along, it was pretty much the same for me. Except now I didn’t have to print it out and find a stamp and a mailbox. But the letter was exactly the same in all other respects. To this day.

I still write long emails, just as I wrote long letters. No doubt, this comes as a big surprise to my fellow jellies, but yes, it is true. I can write rather long discourses. Even longer emails than I write answers, believe it or not.

To me, it doesn’t matter whether a letter comes in an envelope or in email. Email is more instant gratification, but sometimes people make you wait for email, too.

I never lost letters. I still correspond with people via email the same way I did via letter. In fact, with email, I got more mail and had more correspondents than ever. Although they come and go as they always did, and right now, I don’t have many at all. But that has nothing to do with the format and everything to do with my changes in personality.

chyna's avatar

Yes, but I didn’t realize that I mourned the loss of letters until my mom died and I found letters to her from my dad dating back to before they were married. To hold them in my hand, see the post mark, see how much the postage was and to see my dads handwriting is something that people won’t know anymore.

marinelife's avatar

@chyna I agree.The magic of finding little time capsules is gone.

@tom_g How is email superior in your opinion? I remain convinced that it is just dashed off unlike a letter which one sat and thought over before writing. If responding to something that was said to one in a letter, there was a passage of time to think over and collect one’s response.

lifeflame's avatar

I still write, and occasionally receive, letters.

tom_g's avatar

@marinelife: ”@tom_g How is email superior in your opinion? I remain convinced that it is just dashed off unlike a letter which one sat and thought over before writing. If responding to something that was said to one in a letter, there was a passage of time to think over and collect one’s response.”

- I have a general intolerance for clutter and “stuff”. And for the most part, paper makes up much of the stuff I avoid. So, I don’t do paper for the most part. I don’t read paper books any longer, either. Because of my intolerance for this stuff, I have been less-than-protective in hanging onto it. Therefore, some of the great letters I have received over the years have ceased to exist.
– I spend the same amount of time and care in sending my friends and family email that I did when writing letters. I just write to them more. It’s not a quantity over quality issue. It’s: same quality x larger quantity = more meaningful communication.
– What I send to my friends and family is always available to me. I can go back 4 years ago and read what I wrote to my sister when she was going through a difficult time. It’s invaluable for me to see how much I have changed (or stayed the same). There are often things I can learn about myself by reading my own writing.
– It’s all instantly indexed. If I want to read an email from a friend of mine about something in particular, I have it at my fingertips.
– It’s instant. If my sister is going through a really rough spot in life again (which, she is), I am able to instantly send her my thoughts, advice, and words as soon as I have typed them. She needs them now, but sometimes isn’t available for a chat on the phone.
– Related to the above, there are some words and conversations that work better in writing. It might be a sign of a type of relationship you have with someone, but there are things that are better said with the care you can get with typing out careful words rather than talking. Having the ability to do this and send those words instantly is amazing.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@chyna and @marinelife Last year, I pulled down a box of letters from Mom’s attic and read them to her since her eyesight is gone. These were letters from the late ‘30s and mid ‘40s. Indeed, it was a time capsule as to life for Americans during WWII. I cried more than once as Mom provided background on the letter writer. You can’t get this from most e-mails today.

With that said, my partner and I live far away from each other for more than ½ of the year. Our e-mail exchanges are still relatively formal even after five years. My 87 year-old aunt and I are in the midst of communicating via e-mail.

Is there really a difference in whether it is hand-written or typed, be it mailed or in electronic format? In the big picture, my answer is ‘no’. It comes down to the content of the letter. If anything, handwritten shows more effort in today’s world. Other options didn’t exist before the internet, other than a telegram. (Those are pretty cool to run across as well.)

Throwing away a written message is just as simple as deleting an e-mail. It’s all about preservation…the history stored in the letter, no matter what the format or delivery is.

You might enjoy the book, A Woman of Independent Means. It’s a fictional story of a woman based upon correspondence she writes and receives throughout her life.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, I agree with @ Pied Pfeffer.
In a way yes, in others no.
I remember my grandmother sitting down at her antique secretary desk and writing to old friends all the time as a child in the 60’s. I think letter writing via email is still viable, but yeah, I also remember handwriting cards and letters and using sealing wax with letter stamps and there is something rather sad about the death of this art.

Symbeline's avatar

My grandmother and I exchange letters. I really enjoy it, and it seems more personalized than an e-mail. Then again, this may be because she’s my grandma, and she doesn’t have the Internet and never will, so I’m used to exchanging letters with her. (and phone calls) But I don’t find that e-mails are particularly cold or lifeless. I love receiving e-mails from friends. It’s just as enjoyable.

woodcutter's avatar

No. I am almost a whole generation behind the times technically and really like old things but e- mail is so cool, and that’s saying a lot. I mean who in hell thinks less about what they are going to send before they send? I mean it happens on this site often but if I’m sending my Mom a correspondence I am surely going to think about it all before I hit send. I don’t have to mess with stamps, and no time lag. It seems dumb to send a personal letter across town. It usually ends up going to some mail hub a hundred miles away to finally end up a mile away. All that action to move a piece of paper. I end up saving all the e-mails I get if I want to re read them some day.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

Some really great responses to a really great question!

For me, yes and no. There are some advantages to e-mail (instantaneous communication, for one; not using up paper for another (assuming you don’t print out your e-mails!)), but nothing beats the anticipation of a letter in the mail (and getting something that isn’t a bill or junk mail!), opening it, unfolding it, and reading what someone took the time and trouble to say. Since handwriting a letter takes more time than typing it, it shows the real effort that the writer took, the time and trouble they went to to communicate with you. You can see their handwriting, and their personality is conveyed through that in a way that typewritten fonts never could.

Like others here, letters are also time capsules, especially if still in their original envelopes. I have a box full of letters from friends, relatives, and people now long dead that I enjoy re-reading occasionally. The love letters from girlfriends or letters from very close friends that I possess have a certain familiarity, an intimacy to them that conveys emotions far better than an e-mail ever will.

I have been helping out recently, going through my great-grandmother’s belongings, and I have been sorting through her letters from Paris and New York in the 1930’s, and it’s fascinating both on a genealogical and historical level to read her communications to family, and her observations on a world long gone. The use of slang, the descriptions of daily events, the discussions of postage and how long letters would take to arrive from the point of origin to destination, and the longing she felt for relatives she had left behind remind me of just how much larger the world was before the jet age, globalization, and the internet. That’s something you won’t get from any e-missive.

Trillian's avatar

No, I still use paper correspondence with specific people in my life. I place a high value on them.

SomeoneElse's avatar

Write more all of you, please!
I work for the Royal Mail and enjoy seeing faces light up when I deliver a letter not in a brown envelope.
Keep me in employment!

bhec10's avatar

I was born in 1991 so I have never really sent a letter to anyone… The closest thing to that would be a postcard that I usually sent when I was on my travels as a young kid.

But other than that I think the internet is awesome and the amount of things you can do with it is amazing!

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