Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dear readers....

An article in last Sunday's Oregonian newspaper, written by Jim Carmin, the John Wilson Special Collections librarian at Multnomah County Library, which is entitled
Dear readers, The letter must not die begins

The practice and art of writing letters is dying; for most of us it may already be dead. E-mail has taken over. Written communication in our daily lives now is made up of snippets of prose stored on our electronic desktops.

I agree that letter writing has become a lost art. It's rare to get one in the postal mail. A huge amount of communication is done using email. A great deal is also done through texting on cell phones and there's a lot of communication done through wikis and blogs as well. The problem with all of those is there's no way to really save it unless one is willing to print it out. And somehow, a pile of printed out text messages, even if they are love notes, just doesn't have the same cachet. I cannot imagine keeping them, tied with a ribbon, as one might with handwritten notes. An email just doesn't have that "magical" value.

There certainly seems to be more communication now but it seems harder to find anything which is thoughtful, reflective, and creative. I also have realized that even though I have only been using computers for the past 15 years or so I find it more difficult to compose a letter when writing by hand than when typing. I can copy and paste, easily insert additional sentences, and use a spell check feature when I write an email or write a blog or wiki post. My brain seems to be working differently. Or perhaps that's just age.

And there's no time lag with emails. I wrote a note to Mr. Carmin thanking him for his article and the irony, of course, was that I wrote him an email and not a handwritten note sent by postal mail. If I'd done that it would have taken one or two days to get there. I'd have had to find a stamp and make sure I remembered to actually mail it. With an email I only had to hit "send". That, too, is a lost part of the "magic". There's no delicious anticipation waiting for the postman to deliver the day's mail to see if there's a special personal letter.

NOTE: The online version of the article does not include the illustrations of a letter written by Charles Dickens or a postcard from Allen Ginsberg to William Burroughs. You'll need to find a print copy of the article to see those. You can find it in Section O, on page 10.