“In a land of email and a time of technology, the destiny of the ‘letter’ rests on the shoulders of one profession. Their name … writers.”
I don’t know if you’ve ever visited the house of a famous writer. Many of them are owned by the National Trust, and my parents have long had the idea that family holidays are about visiting local, Historical and Cultural Landmarks and Improving our Minds.
So I’ve seen quite a few.
One of the things they almost always have is a collection of letters between the author who lived there and other prominent society figures of the time, usually other writers.
In the future, when all we beginner writers (I prefer that to “aspiring” for many reasons) are famous, and people are eBaying our possessions and signatures for millions of pounds, what will they have to display?
Printed out emails? Screenshots of blog comment conversations? Transcripts from when the News of the World hacked our phones? (Do not let it be said that I am not topical. I am most certainly topical. Never mind that I learned everything I know about current affairs from Have I Got News For You…)
I’ll be the last to complain about the advent of technology and how instant communication is these days. Goodness knows I use it often enough. But it’s true that without letters and hard copies of things, there’ll be no record of us in the future. We’ll disappear.
You’ve probably seen a lot of comments from Charley on my blog. We’ve known each other almost three years now – though we are yet to meet face to face – and that time has been made up of internet communication: Protagonize comments and collaboration turning into emails and from there to a Facebook friendship, before finally becoming phone calls and video chats. We hope to meet up this summer. We both sent each other Christmas presents by direct order – real, tangible communication. But no handwriting. No personal touch.
I wrote her a birthday card, earlier this month. It had penguins on it. I’m sure one of the baby ones was plotting something, so it seemed appropriate, as Charley rarely isn’t.
She wrote me a letter back.
I just finished writing her a reply, which I’ll post when someone gives me a stamp (as I’m too skint to buy them for myself).
Half the joke, I’ll admit, is on the envelopes. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote on the back of the card but I believe it had something to do with the souls of characters possibly being trapped inside the envelope. The letter she wrote to me had this on the back:
In fact, the post arrived at a time of day when I was purportedly revising, so my dad called up to me that I had a card and said he thought he knew who it was from. I asked him how and he read out the above message. “It’s kind of… Spooky,” he said. (The joke here is that I knew Charley for so long as ‘Spook’ that I still call her that, and that’s the name my parents know, so it was a pun. A bad one. Nowhere near as good as this one.)
I wrote another message on the back of the envelope for the letter waiting to be posted, which I won’t share because it’d spoil the surprise (but perhaps Charley will do so over at her own blog, when it arrives?).
Funny envelope messages / writer in-jokes aren’t the point I’m trying to make, though. The point I’m trying to make is that letters are a form of communication that later will tell a lot about ourselves, a lot about our lives, a lot about our feelings.
Very few people keep diaries any more. Very few people write an entry – Dear Diary, today my best friend told me they loved me and I don’t know how to deal with it. If you tell anyone, you tell your friends, usually by email or by text because it’s easier to confess things like that rather than face-to-face.
But for the nosy people of the future, letters are a goldmine. And they’re dying out.
I have a challenge for you, blog readers. Your numbers have diminished lately (I think I confused any links, search engines and comment path things by changing my URL), but I choose to believe that you are faithful to the end. And so will you do this for me?
Write a letter. To someone. Anyone. A family member. An internet friend who trusted you with their address. That girl you used to know from the summer camp when you were thirteen.
Write them a letter. Tell them what’s going on, write it on your finest paper, with your nicest handwriting, and write a funny message on the envelope – much as Charley and I try to keep our email subject lines varied – for their enjoyment. Post it.
It may be nice for people like me who crave attention to open their email inbox and see (1) Unread Message. But I think it’s even nicer to go downstairs and find on the doormat a piece of post that isn’t a bill or bank statement or junk mail.
Write a letter, readers. Write a letter, and then leave me a comment telling me what the reaction was.