The Lost Art of Letter Writing (‘A closer look at: words on the page’).

As child, I spent many post-holiday afternoons writing letters to a friend. We had just spent a fortnight together, splashing around in the sea and pool, and sipping on (non-alcoholic) ‘Jungle Book’ cocktails. I would write excitedly to her about everything I had done since our planes touched down on opposite ends of the country, attaching various stickers and badly-drawn illustrations as I went.

Fast-forward nearly ten years, and these days I’ve grown to accept the methodical shift to online messaging. Be that as it may, I still find my eye caught by ‘The Love Letters of Dylan Thomas’ and similar publications on my perusals around Fopp between classes.

There’s something so personal about the act of writing a letter. From picking the writing paper, to licking the stamp, to taking the walk to the post-box, it is simply more thoughtful, and pleasing to know that the other person has adopted the kind of consideration which requires more than the click of a button. Compare this to using Facebook or email, where everything is constricted to the same adhering template, and where everyone will ‘send’ their message into the same blank box. Technology instantly creates a barrier and, aside from the human beings typing the words, there is nothing unique about it.

Even though I am technically part of the social media generation, I have been lucky enough to befriend someone who is, basically, a luddite. A few Christmases ago I received a card that he had filled from top to bottom with words. It was written in long, sweeping strokes, the kind you can take great pleasure in tracing with your fingertips. Best of all, the front cover was a drawing of my friend’s home town around 100 years earlier. Having taken into consideration my mild-obsession with the Victorian period, he had especially picked it out and created a dialogue from there.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not completely resistant to internet communication. Without it, my job wouldn’t even be in existence. Sometimes you need to exchange snippets of information or meeting times quite quickly and I’m in favour of that. And perhaps it is more about the sentiment, than the medium the sentiment is expressed in. I recently went abroad to write for a month and while it was a very busy period for both of us, my boyfriend and I still made time to exchange lengthy updates about our lives, during a lunch hour, or in-between deadlines. In spite of this, though, it is the complete eradication of composing hand-written letters for one another that upsets me.

I recently had the pleasure of leafing through old letters belonging to my grandmother. I found one from when my uncle, at the age of twenty-one, moved down to England for his first big job after graduation, and found others from my great-grandmother whom I never met. In reading them, I felt connected to a part of my family’s history from before I existed. It raised the question: what about future generations? When I think about the ‘worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook’ I feel cheated. No longer will the exchanges between lovers or family be sacred, or as easy as being lifted from a box under the bed. This part of your life and your history will legally belong to a third party. Forever.

I would like to have in my hands something that I can hold ten years from now, something that belongs to no one else except me, documenting stories and ideas once sparked between friends. Because even when lives change, and feelings change, you can still have that testament to your relationship as it stood at that moment in time.

No Facebook message will ever beat that.

By Kathleen Coyle, picture by Melissa Reid (as part of ‘A Closer Look at: Words on a Page’)
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