Tuesday, June 21, 2011

No Two Alike

In the past month I've been to two communications conferences where the focus has been, not surprisingly, on all things digital. So much content for us to consume--websites, wikis, blogs and social networks. A next big thing called content curation.

And so many ways to consume --smartphones, tablets, Internet TV, to say nothing of those antiques, the laptop and desktop PC.

It's all so simple. And so fast. Talking to so many people, in so little time.

It was enough to make a girl say, "Tell me again why I'm handwriting letters?"

Fair question. But here's the thing: for all the things electronic communication can do, there are some things it can't:

Create a tangible connection. When I receive a handwritten letter in the mail, I know that the sender touched that same piece of paper. No matter how many thousands of miles I erase when Facebooking with my friend in Japan, I still can't create that same intimacy.

Leave something valuable behind. Yes, emails can be printed and saved. But how many are? And when an email is printed, in that Times New Roman or Courier font, on that run-of-the-mill (literally) white printer paper, how personal does it seem? At a glance, does that letter look any different than the water bill? A stack of letters saved in a box looks like a piece of history. A stack of emails printed out looks like, well, a stack of printouts.

A handwritten letter is a representation of the sender, with all of his or her idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. The paper. The handwriting. The color of the pen. The straight, or decidedly not straight, lines. Drawings in the margin. The postscript(s).

Case in point: I recently received a letter from T, a public defender. When I was learning the ropes as a newspaper reporter he was my nemesis; when I earned his trust he was a valued source; now I'm proud to call him a friend. I wrote to thank him for all he taught me. His response noted, in part, that he'd shown my letter (which he described as "a pretty large rock thrown into the tranquil pond of my cognition") to another reporter "I done went and scared/offended/pissed off at the courthouse."

T could have typed all that in an email, and I would have still smiled at the sentiment. But somehow the words weighed more written on the nice stationery, in that same tall, skinny scrawl I remember from all those court filings. I knew T didn't start and stop and delete and spellcheck--it was one time through, no rehearsals, from the heart.

And that's the thing about handwritten letters--and the snowflakes that illustrate this post--no two are alike. Because no two of us are alike. A letter is uniquely personal, someone's blood, sweat and ink. The product of his or her hand, to be held in yours.

Write on.

HANDWRITING IS GOOD FOR YOU? Believe it. A recent Los Angeles Times article notes that "Emerging research shows that handwriting increases brain activity, hones fine motor skills, and can predict a child's academic success in ways that keyboarding can't."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, I just read your question about how many e-mails are printed and saved. Well, I print, save, and save special ones in envelopes. I then glue the envelopes to a journal page. I write. I might embellish, but I have kept that e-mail.

I love it when my journal pages spread out like flowers blooming. When they are filled, I tie them close with pretty grosgrain ribbon or twine.

I've bookmarked your blog. :)