When I was a teenager, there was nothing more exciting than coming across a pretty letter writing set, complete with matching envelopes, when I was out at the shops. I had quite the collection and choosing which one to use for which friend was a real rush. I would use my best handwriting (which isn’t saying much since my handwriting has always been terrible), and then I would share the adventures I’d had with my sisters or friends, what my chickens had been up to, the funny thing my dog had done, and would gush over how cute Mark from Take That was.
In my final year of high school we got our first computer. Two years later, I had an email address and an ICQ account. I met people online and instead of writing them letters, we’d keep in touch by chatting on forums or on MSN.
Ten years ago, my step-sister in Canada and I began to write letters to one another as a form of nostalgic rebellion. Of course, by the time the letters finally reached us, we were already across all of the news thanks to Facebook but it was still such a thrill to open the letterbox and find not a bill or advertising, but an honest-to-God letter.
My story is quite common (didn’t everyone think that Mark from Take That was cute? No? Oh…). Michelle Rowland, the Minister for Communications, states that 97% of all letters sent within Australia are for business purposes. Think about the personal mail you still receive? I’m guessing the majority of it is birthday or Christmas cards and wedding invites. Of the 3%, how many items of personal mail would actually be a handwritten letter just for the sake of sharing news the good old-fashioned way?
Speaking of Christmas cards, how many of us still write those? Each year, I’ll write out a personalised Christmas card for all of my active library members. It’s a massive task. To me, those small and meaningful touches are what makes the difference between an impersonal library service, and the small, welcoming service I strive to deliver. I have to say though, after writing out so many, my motivation to send cards to my friends and family is definitely lacking. I also tend to procrastinate, and by the time I’ve gotten myself organised, there’s no way the card will arrive in time for Christmas so why bother?
The decline of the letter, and the humble Christmas card, does sadden me. Taking the time to write a letter, or send a card, sends the recipient a message. A message much more meaningful than ‘I think Mark from Take That is cute’. It tells the recipient that you were thinking of them. That you took the time out of your very busy day and found a pen that works, made an effort to turn your chicken scratch into something legible, and you wrote that note with them in mind. You sent them a little piece of your heart and that’s not always something that an email can convey.