I’ve been sorting through the attic, clearing out old toys and games and sorting out boxes of old letters and cards: the accumulated paperwork that follows us through life. Funny thing though, the trail is getting thin. Through my teens and twenties, there are letters and cards from school and university friends, each envelope carrying the stamp of a far off country or telling tales of new jobs and adventure. Gradually, these turn into cards announcing weddings, births and second careers. Slowly though, the flood of letters thins: still birthday and christmas cards, but very few letters. In fact, i’ve had one this year.
The shift to Social technology and online communities has been transformational: it’s changed how we work and how we play, but most of all, it’s kept us in touch with the little details. Indeed, in a recent survey i did on the Learning Forum, the biggest impact people had felt from the Social Age was in our social lives: it eclipsed both ‘work‘ and ‘learning‘ in terms of response, combined.
But why should i care? After all, i spend half my time cursing the paperwork that comes cascading through my letterbox: bills, adverts, telephone directories (seriously, who still uses a paper directory?!). But letters are different: they have a reflective quality that i miss. The sight of a handwritten envelope still makes me smile: the thrill when you recognise the handwriting, when you see a little picture drawn on the back, when you see an unusual stamp or exotic postcode.
I’m no luddite: as regular readers know, i’m never without my iPad and my last handwritten missive was circa 2006, but i can’t let the humble letter die without wondering if we have lost something.
Bundles of envelopes, tied with string, tell stories from my past: love and adventures writ large and written in spidery script over yellowing pages in fading water based inks. Letters feel, they smell, they crinkle and age. Emails just archive.
Letters require a little more reflection and are harder to send in haste and often less hasty in tone than ubiquitous email.
Letters are emotive in ways that gmail just ain’t. Hotmail is hot in name only, whilst the letters of love that lie tied in ribbons reminisce of summers past and passions inflamed.
Letters remind me of friendships lost and to revalue those that persist. I never revisit my emails in this way. Why is that?
Of course, i have Facebook now, and wonderful it is too: it lets us remain loosely connected with the multitude of people who pass through our lives, but maybe it doesn’t let us build the depth of connections that only a letter can truly hold.
I started by claiming that i’m no luddite, but maybe a small part of me misses the taste of the glue on the back of the envelope, of the experience of writing a letter and drawing little pictures in the margins. Experiences that must surely be almost lost to us today. The speed and ubiquity of socially collaborative technology is driving the Social Age, but today, for one day anyway, let me reminisce for the feel of a letter, opened in haste over breakfast, bringing news of loved ones from far away. I miss that.