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27 September 2011 @ 12:01 pm
I miss good old fashioned letters in the mail.  
So I am listening to an audio version of the book The Duchess by Amanda Foreman (which was originally published under the title Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) and it’s been a bit dry, but interesting. Not knowing anything about Georgiana before the book, and being generally unfamiliar with England in the reign of George III, it’s been very educational. But I don’t want to talk about that. What has got me thinking today is how much our knowledge of the Duchess of Devonshire (D of D, going forward) from the letters she wrote to her many friends and family members.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote anything longer than a thank-you note, although in high school I had several penpals. With the advance of the Internet, our means of communication changed so much that the people I once wrote letters are now readers of my Livejournal or friends on Facebook.

Is the art of letter writing something we have lost?

There’s the physical aspect of it that can’t be replicated on the computer. Choosing the perfect paper to write on and selecting a suitable pen was almost a ceremony. Each penstroke on the page was a promise that communicating with this person was important, that their correspondence was valued. It was almost offensive when many people started switching to typing letters and simply changing the name in the “Dear ________” line. It seemed so careless and formulaic. But the handwritten letters were treasured. How a word was written revealed as much about the emotions of the writer as the word itself.

I miss receiving letters like this.

To some degree, blogging has replaced letter-writing, but it isn’t quite the same. It isn’t personalized to individual messages, but written to a generalized audience. When we want to talk to someone individually, we send messages through e-mail or Facebook or Twitter (and some people may still be using AIM and similar chat programs) but they rarely go as deep as the old letters did.

But what I really wonder about is how the lack of letters will impact future studies. When my great-grandchildren want to know more about their family history, will they be culling through Seanie’s Facebook timeline for information? Sorting through his Twitter stream? Getting an idea of his personality through status updates and tweets? I guess it’s more immediate and it will contain information about him, but it’s shallow. I have this k00kaburra thing, which may have more details about my life, but I always secretly think that all these digital words will someday disappear into the ether without a physical counterpart. If the digital archive is gone, is anything left?

But apparently I don’t feel strongly enough about all this to start writing letters again. I fear I won’t get a response, and I’ll just be writing to nobody, which is worse than writing to a general audience, because at least I can pretend with every blog post that someone out there in the Internet ether is reading it.