Why a handwritten letter is still better than an email

In times of constant connection & availability, old-fashioned letter writing sort of moved to the darkest corner of our constantly connected conscience. I even dare to say that younger generations never even wrote a letter. What’s most likely is that kids nowadays swap the typical hastily scribbled notes on torn pieces of paper during lessons under the angry eyes of their teachers. At least that’s what I hope they’re still doing. But that doesn’t come close to a proper letter.

When I talk about writing a letter, I don’t mean a postcard, a note, an email or a Facebook message. I mean, sitting down with some nice paper, your pen of choice, an envelope, stamps, and most of all the right (writing) mood, amongst other things.

I started thinking about this topic back in early November last year. In my life I’ve had two constant pen-pals. One from Spain and the other one from England. The latter one became my closest friend and I still regard her as that and furthermore as a close family member. We’ve been writing long, book-like letters since I was about 11 years old and this is probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing a journal. I think, I never felt the need to since I had my constant written exchange and correspondence with those two people in other countries, that many times felt so much closer to me than most of the people surrounding me. As years passed by, things changed, the internet came and with it emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, forums for whatever kind of topic, etc. that made big, worldwide social and professional networks and their according constant information and communication (instant) flow & exchange possible. I guess, people born after the 80s might even take it for granted to receive a message, a voicemail, a picture almost the same moment it’s been sent independent of the location of its sender and recipient. I remember I exchanged mix-tapes with my pen-pals on which I also recorded a personal message for them – something one might call a voicemail.

So the occasions when I actually sat down and wrote a letter or even received one became more and more seldom over the years. Last year – with all the things that happened up to that point and on from then – I decided it was more than time again to sit down and start to write a letter. But it’s not that easy anymore. And this is not just because my life is a bit more busy than it used to be when I was 11 years old. Apart from having enough time to write one of those book-like letters, there’s also my personal need for being in the right writing mood, then the need for the right place to be in, having various decent lattes available, feeling ‘inspired’ and awake enough to keep on writing and overcoming the pain in my right hand since I am not used to handwriting anymore. I was shocked to realise that my hand started aching tremendously after having written the first half DIN A4 page (plus about all those spelling errors that I couldn’t just erase and replace by the right words after autocorrect had overflown it). This doesn’t happen while happily typing away an email or a Facebook group message. At least not to me. Well, so it took me about 1 month to write down about 8 pages. But I made it and I am very happy about that. Whenever I felt in the right mood for writing, I forced the other circumstances and myself and picked up where I last left it. It seemed ages to me that I carried around that half finished letter!

Good time for writing

The thing about putting something down on paper in your own handwriting (not even printed out after typing it into your PC), is that it is just something very personal and beautiful, even something vulnerable in its own way. You really give away something from yourself to someone. It’s brought down on paper and apart from the ink of the pen and the words you chose, the recipient will read you and your mood between the lines, will realise how your handwriting changes and what it looks like: if it’s steady and clear, or hasty, narrow, round, small, etc. All those things are able to characterise and define us partly and this is why you’re giving away something personal, only owned by you up until then, through a handwritten letter. It’s a big gift in my eyes and it’s something there to stay if regarded as that special gift by its recipient. It’s not virtual. You have to take it into your hands, touch it, you can feel it, and bring it up close to you in order to read it. You don’t have the distance between you and your PC screen. Sometimes you can even smell a letter, its paper and ink (I remember sending letters including dried flowers).

Maybe those are the reasons why I felt so intensely and deeply disappointed when the letter hadn’t arrived after having posted it more than a month ago. I felt cheated on. My friend asked me if I could print it out again, and in that moment I felt hurt. Not by her, obviously, but by the simple fact that even though a handwritten letter is not as easy to get rid of as an email or a word document, which we just move into our virtual bin to be emptied the moment of our choice, it is not that easy to ‘restore’ a lost letter. No hacker or computer geek could help us in that case. The only thing that remains as a possibility to save it is by re-writing it and if you don’t have that backup copy (which I usually don’t but I am thinking about photocopying my future written correspondence) or a photographic memory, you’ll never be able to recreate that exact same letter, transmitting the same mood and feelings through the same words, paragraphs, handwriting style, etc. that you had while you brought your words down to paper for the first time.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the Spanish, English or whatever post finally transported it to its rightful addressee.  Plus I am now looking forward to receive an answer!

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