I was speaking with a client recently about his communication with a person he is seriously dating from a distance. We talked about some of the miscommunications that can come from reliance upon texting for communication. Texting, by definition is a short fast medium meant to convey mostly factual information. It is not always very good about communicating emotional content. Texting has its place, and it can be very effective as far as it goes. However, for conveying something deeper, more intimate, handwritten letters are great.
Yes, very old school- but it is effective.
The beauty of a handwritten letter is that it slows things down so that meaning can be absorbed. In the hyper fast world of texting, instant response is often expected. That response may be hurried, lacking nuance, and certainly, it does not by its very nature communicate warmth and intimacy.
Handwritten letters can convey some weight. They take time to reach the recipient, and they can be received with a sense of warmth. You are holding a piece of paper that was handled by that person with whom you are corresponding. You are seeing how they formed letters, and you can respect the amount of time and effort that it took to compose the letter. There was a process, a somewhat cumbersome process, involved in that person reaching out to you. That letter was crafted with forethought. Time was taken to say what they wanted to convey, and you as recipient have time to process the information before you respond yourself. It slows down the process, but it also deepens it.
In the classic Ken Burns documentary, old letters helped us to learn about the Civil War in a very personal way. Burns gathered a great deal of history from those letters, and more importantly, he explored the perceptions and thoughts of those people who were affected by the war. These were beautiful, poignant letters preserved through history, which helped to make that history come alive. Those handwritten letters were a lens into the thinking and feeling of people who had poured their hearts into the written word.
We of course cannot rely upon handwritten letters as our primary or expected mode of communication. However, there is something to be said about that “old school” way of communication that we can still use to great effect in a world where instant communication does not always hit the mark very well.