I recently started thinking about letter writing, and how antiquated it is that you can send a letter to someone else in a different country, and that country’s postal system just delivers it, without you having to pay them. Of course, you have to pay extra to your own postal service, but once it’s gone – that’s it, no other costs. It feels old fashioned, a leftover from a bygone time.
And then I started wondering why letter writing is so alluring. Is it that antiquated feeling, that sense of nostalgia and old-fashionedness?
I don’t think so. There are plenty of old-fashioned things we’re more than happy to see the back of. Like asbestos, or brutalist architecture.
No, I think there’s something about the letter writing process which speaks to us, which works better for our minds than social media or instant messaging does.
Firstly, I think this is because it adds a layer of removal to the conversation. You know they aren’t going to respond immediately, and there’s no pressure on you to do so. With instant messaging, there’s an almost unconscious anxiety that underpins it: did I take too long to reply? Have I offended them? Or, they haven’t responded yet. Has something happened? Did I say something wrong?
You expect a reply at any moment, and that makes it harder for us to send longer messages, for whatever psychological reason. When we open our notifications and there’s a long message from a friend, it usually causes a spike in your heart rate. What’s happened now? But a long letter – that’s a nice thing to receive.
The immediacy of social media also makes it somewhat awkward to talk about long-term, bigger picture things. It’s meant for immediate, snappy conversation – but sometimes, we do want to cover those topics. The more formal and slower nature of the letter works for this.
But most of all, I think there’s just a pure joy in the process. The luxury of getting post and it not being a bill or government letter: it’s something a friend sent directly to you. It means they took the time to write it, stamp it, and walk it down to the postbox – just for you. It feels like a small act of gift-giving, and it feels just as nice crafting one, too. This is something you’re making for a friend, to bring some joy to them – and having a conversation at the same time.
So, I think I want to start writing letters.
The thing is, it’s a little bit expensive. If it wasn’t, I’d take on as many as I could get, but as it is, I think half a dozen would be my cutoff.
So if you would like to exchange letters with me, drop me a message over on Twitter. I think it would be a lovely way to start 2021, after this year of isolation.