An actual, real letter

In my first few years in America, I wrote a whole bunch of handwritten letters to my parents. I also wrote long emails (which were easier to cc: to others) about my initial impressions, but the letters were longer, more reflective, and more personal. This was before I got sucked into that vortex of unlimited-all-the-time-access to the internet. The letter-writing petered out in a few years. I can't recall the last time I wrote someone a letter. Has technology made us lazy and sloppy? I think so. Punctuation and spelling, to speak much less about bad grammar, are now optional (author included) in electronic communication. Even emails are a level above tweets and text messages. Technology is disruptive, but does it need to be always be destructive? The oxymoronic Schumpeter-ism - 'creative destruction' leans heavily on the latter. In terms of the defending the ancient art of letter writing, I am an occasional and limited contributor. It is a bit of a cop-out, but I have been writing postcards pretty religiously for the last 6 years or so. Whenever I am out of town, I pick up a few postcards, hunt for stamps and as far as possible mail them from the location. One postcard is always sent home to my parents. The others are sent to a random assortment of friends. I must add that every single one of them was glad to receive the postcard but no one has written one to me. Karmic destiny may not work on human time-scale. Sigh! One of my New Year's Resolutions is to write at least 12 actual letters in the coming year, one for every month of the year. There was something satisfying in writing the letter, the sealing of the envelope, the licking of the stamp, and the walk to the postbox. The postbox gobbled the letter and then began the mystery of when it would exactly reach the addressee. Just as I was done composing my first draft of the first letter of the year, I came across this piece by Roger Angell who reports and laments the loss of confirmed next-day delivery by the United States Postal Service. What is exactly lost? that calls for this sort of nostalgic longing?

Losing the mixed pleasures of just arrived letters may not mean as much in the end as what we’re missing by not writing them. Writing regularly to several people—a parent, a friend who’s moved to another coast, a daughter or son away at college—requires one to keep separate mental ledgers, storing up the weather or the idle thoughts or the disasters we need to pass on. We’re always getting ready to write. The letters out and back become a correspondence, and mysteriously take on a tone of their own: some rambly and comfortably boring; others cool and funny; some financial; some confessional. They stick in the mind and seem worth the trouble....

Letters aren’t exactly going away. Condolence letters can’t be sent out from our laptops, and maybe not love letters, either, because e-mail is so leaky. Secrets—an expected baby, a lowdown joke, a killer piece of gossip—require a stamp and a sealed flap, and perhaps apologies do as well (“I don’t know what came over me”). Not much else. E-mail is cheap, and the message is done and delivered almost as quickly as the thought of it.

  Roger Angell on writing letters in the New Yorker
Old emails to my parents are now mostly lost - cremated electronically or permanently exiled and then forgotten in some folder. One doesn't feel their loss. Of course, my mother has saved every one of my letters and postcards in a special folder that is stored in her steel Godrej cupboard. Those real, actual letters will survive many years to be read again and again.

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