In Defense of Writing Letters

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There’s no hiding the fact that we live in a time that’s oversaturated with information. It seems as if everything and everybody is always competing for our attention. Ads jump at you on your computer, billboards steal your attention from the road, and messages/notifications just beg for you to check your phone every few minutes.

The information overload can be overwhelming. Don’t you ever wish everything would just shut off for a goddamn second? Sometimes I feel like this when I get a message from a friend or family member. I respond to them within a minute, usually with a one- or two-sentence reply. Lately, I’ve been pondering how this might affect my relationships. Maybe these one- to two-sentence replies we send back and forth between people we hold close has been affecting not the quantity of information shared, but the quality.

Writing a Letter vs. Sending a Text

Consider the differences between a text message and a letter. When you send a text, your goal is to communicate as briefly as possible. Lord knows our fingers can only follow our thoughts so quickly and phones are hard to type on. With these constraints, we don’t “write” or “compose” a text message, we “shoot out” a text. You also expect your text to be responded to you rather quickly.

When you write a letter, you sit down with a pen and a full piece of paper. You have the opportunity to write down everything you are thinking. Even if it’s a typed letter, you are still conveying a large amount of information. You don’t expect a reply for weeks to months at a time, therefore your goal is to convey all your information and feelings about the person or subject at hand. Think about what this does to the quality of your writing.

Writing a letter is an opportunity to reveal and explore the depths of our thoughts. Maybe you write more honestly about the person you are communicating with, perhaps even more descriptively. Think about how this might affect your relationships. You reveal a deeper connection and individuality. The person you are writing to has an opportunity to understand your flowing thoughts and colorful personality. Writing a letter is your chance to sit down and express yourself without the crushing weight of Father Time sitting on your shoulders.

I don’t write letters often, but when I do, it’s mostly done to express how much a person means to me or to convey deep information. I’ve written letters to people when our relationships have been strained in attempt to reconcile them with honesty. I’ve written letters to people on the verge of death, pouring my heart out with the force of a waterfall. I’ve written letters to people I haven’t seen in a while, letting them know all the nuances and details that have been going on in my life since I last saw them. I feel that to be much more personable than texting them. I’ve written letters to people I know I’ll never talk to or see again, which is a great way to crystallize my thoughts or cement this person’s significance in my life.  And of course, I’ve written letters to government officials demanding change to policies or procedures. (Nobody has ever responded to these, but I’ll keep writing them until someone does).

In conclusion, writing letters can be a way for you to express yourself to a person, or even to yourself, in a much deeper and honest way than sending a text. Maybe I’m just a technology-fearing hipster, but I see great value in this exercise.

My challenge to you: After reading this, send a letter to someone you wish to express yourself to, but maybe haven’t had a good opportunity to. You might feel embarrassed or stupid about this gesture, but you will never regret not having said anything. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s to never let things go unsaid.

(p.s. This article reminded me of one of my favorite Blink-182 songs, “Here’s Your Letter.”)

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