I have four instant messaging apps on my phone.
I am connected to all of my favourite people through these apps. It’s absolutely brilliant that I can say hey to anyone, any time, anywhere and they receive it instantly, whether they are 10 or 10,000 miles away. They are especially useful for announcing news and milestones that simply cannot wait another moment.
Why then would I want to go through the trouble of scribbling or typing words on sheets of paper (not to mention constructing them to coherence), taking it to the post box, when one can easily type the things one wants to say on a keypad and send it in seconds?
Is letter-writing an archaic and irrelevant exercise in these days of instantaneous communication?
I should hope not. What letter writing lacks in swiftness of delivery, it makes up for in soul.
In this age of hyper-busyness and multi-tasking, letter writing is an exercise in being focused on a single task, a much needed reprieve for our overloaded brains. I daresay this is not something that an IM interaction can claim. Even if I am in a focused online chat with one of my favorite people, it is so easy to get distracted and save a response for much later, and sometimes, never. The very nature of instant messaging allows us to interact while we are in the middle of other things that need our attention. It’s not a bad thing; it is the way it is. While one can easily switch from one application to another, writing a letter makes you stay put and present.
The other beauty of a letter is that it is essentially a collection of unique character artifacts; the sender's handwriting, her doodles on the margin, her choice of stationery and typeface, how she tells her story, her purpose for writing. It is literally a piece of the writer in the hands of its recipient. It is the most personal keepsake of a loved one one could ever have.
I like to call handwritten letters, ‘love in the mail.’ I feel all warm and fuzzy when I see an envelope addressed to me, one that isn’t a utility bill. Reading a letter is an exercise in being in the present too. One of the most delicious pleasures in life is sitting on the sofa, reading a long and juicy letter from a friend, warm cup of coffee in hand. It almost feels like she’s there having coffee with me.
I start to think about the exquisiteness of how she made the effort to select stationery. How she determinedly set a block of time and space in her busy day, affectionately thinking of me. How she took a trip to the post office to get the letter going on its way. She may even have sealed it with a kiss.
The letter is a very tangible expression of fondness and for correspondents who share a history, love.
I am grateful for the ease of communication and information sharing that instant messaging brings. But I know that every so often, when there is a need for a more poignant connection, I will reach, not for my phone, but my pen - and start scribbling away.