Emily Buckley, editor in chief
In an age of rapid-fire responses, efficiency-obsessed, tiny-keyboard communication, I still have a special soft spot in my heart for hand-written letters. I think it stems from my pen pal relationship with my grandmother, who had the most beautiful cursive penmanship, and would send regular hand-written letters, usually written late at night, to keep our relationship strong, despite the hundreds of miles between us.
Hand-written letters were a part of the social code of my grandmother’s generation. It was the way they expressed thanks, offered condolences, delivered important information, and shared love.
Recently, while cleaning out a box of my late grandmother’s belongings, I came across a delightful packet of letters, still in pristine condition (because they were treasures, after all), between her and her sister. The notes told stories only sisters would share, about their loves, dreams, disappointments, and ambitions; the same kind of stuff I text my own sisters about regularly, only these were full of personality — it was almost as though I could hear their voices and giggles, in a much more youthful state than I ever knew them to be.
Sometimes I question if this art of communication, messages crafted by hand rather than electronic device and writing that carries emotions rather than emoticons, will fade out with their generation? I hope not. From the careful intentions of the sender and the value experienced by the receiver, there is no match for the impact of a hand-written letter. This old-time form of communication is both endearing and valuable. So, here I purpose five reasons to keep the tradition alive:
- It stimulates the brain and creates lasting memories. Just as study notes written by hand prove to be more effective for students, moments committed to paper are more likely to be stored in your own memory, allowing both the sender and receiver to reflect on and appreciate them again and again (This is a great argument for journal writing, too!). Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin who focuses on hand writing, found that students in second, fourth, and sixth grade not only wrote faster by hand than by keyboard — but also generated more ideas when composing essays in longhand. She also found that the sequential finger movements required to write by hand activate brain regions involved with thought, language, and short-term memory.
- It shows you care. Our society is busy all of the time. It feels good when a friend takes time to send a text just to say “hi.” So, imagine the care you could convey by taking the time to write your thoughts for another person by hand, purchase a stamp, physically deliver the note to a mailbox, and wait for your special someone to receive it. Physical birthday cards, holiday wishes, and postcards from vacations seem to be falling by the wayside with the ability to instantly share thoughts on social media, but who wouldn’t like to receive a much more thoughtful message?
- It makes you feel good, too. On top of the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a friend’s day, research shows that expressive writing contributes to reduced stress, better moods, and an overall improved sense of wellbeing.
- It requires you to unplug and focus. For the few minutes that your hands are busy writing, you won’t be focused on technology. For that short time, there is little room for multi-tasking or having side conversations. You can think before you push send, and focus on the person at the receiving end of the note.
- Letters are timeless. Long after they are sent and received, letters remain to be read, appreciated, and preserved. Whether displayed in museums, like those of Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Abigail Adams, and Abraham Lincoln, or saved in a box or scrapbook, letters honor memories and lives in a way social media, email, or texting cannot. They are tangible, personal and real.