The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Image: Public Domain

Image: Public Domain


For a long time, writing letters was the only practical way of communicating over long distances. It was cheap, relatively fast, and allowed for long form writing in a way that telegrams did not. Telegrams were good for extremely important or timely information, but for general stuff, letters were it.

They were either handwritten, which was most popular, or typewritten, if one had a typewriter. (After typewriters were invented.) And in the 20th century (most of it), if you were a frequent letter writer, chances are you or your family definitely sprang for a typewriter.

Brother_typewriter_by_awdean1 CC by-sa 3.0

Image by awdean1, CC by-sa 3.0

Today, short form communication is the law of the land. Quick emails, texts, IMs, DMs, tweets, and Facebook updates, along with photo bursts with captions on Instagram, are the way we communicate these days. There are definitely some advantages to these methods, but something does get lost in translation.

Letters allowed one to dally while writing, and dally while reading. There was no backspace key, so sentences were usually given more thought before being placed on paper. Vocabulary was better. Sentences were longer. And letters were kept, treasured, and re-read, sometimes passed around, depending on content.

I enjoy reading and re-reading letters like I rarely do with even emails (except the good, heartfelt, well-thought-out emails). Holding a letter in my hand gives it a tangible feel. It isn’t just pixels on a screen. Physical letters somehow seem less disposable than digital ones. Harder to lose, harder to part with.

In about another week, I will begin sharing my great grandfather Arthur’s letters from his time in Germany. They will be transcribed, for easy reading, but I’ll include some images of his actual letters, so they feel more real and personal.