Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Price Of A Stamp

Do you know how much it is for a book of 12 stamps these days?
Letters Live was a rather interesting event held on 23rd April this year where various famous writers and faces read letters from themselves to other famous people, or even family members in order to show 'the enduring power of literary correspondence'.

In a digital world, it is rare for me to receive mail these days.  The last letter I received through my letterbox, the last real hand-written, letter that contained proper real-life information and feelings and wasn't just from the bank telling me I'd gone into my overdraft yet again, was from my auntie, on the birth of Ethan.

In it was a small note of how she was doing, what her family have been up to and expression of interest in me and mine.

Her handwriting was neat and joined-up, with personal touches and couple of ad-lib sentences added last-minute to the paragraphs to imbibe more meaning, in order to carry feeling and emotion.  It's a real joy to read because it's personal and warm, with a real sense of link between family.

We used to correspond often in this way - I'd write a letter to her, she'd respond with a letter or a card back.

The feeling of receiving a letter through the post is great.  A personal thing which has winged it's way to you and only you, written by someone you love from somewhere far away.

A postcard from a relative on holiday.
A get well card.
A note of sympathy from a friend on the death of a loved one.
A quirky note left by a flatmate on the kitchen table.
Notes passed in class between giddy teenagers.

All of this has been nearly wiped out completely by smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messaging.  There's no more hanging around or waiting weeks on end for a reply to a question about family life.  Everyone and their grandmother is online now, and with that comes the fact that we can be contacted anywhere, any time, day or night.

If you can't message someone on Facebook, you can send them a quick text message.  You can give them a call, or send them an intimate photo of daily life on Snapchat.  You can Skype with or without cameras. Google has made sure that photographs are available to view by millions of people all over the world at the click of a button.

We are sharing information at a phenomenal rate; our everyday emotions from one minute to the next can be documented if we so wish.  Emoticons for sadness, happiness, loneliness, drunkenness, shyness, rage, fear, empathy, love, laughing and fear can be found and we can create emotions as we see fit.

You can speak to anyone on any subject, anywhere, any time.

And in a way that's completely awesome.  It's certainly connected me to a wider number of folk whom I would never have even known existed before now.  I can talk to people instantly about problems I'm having with my children, queries I have about school places and dog food and what everyone thinks about poverty.  I can lend my voice to petitions for causes I may or may not care deeply about and I can comment on current news and media as soon as it is published, in a public sphere.  I can make my own voice heard.

Literary correspondence has evolved at an amazing rate.

My fear is, however, that the art of handwriting will be lost.  The ability to spell without autocorrect will disappear.  Emails get discarded in bulk deletion folders and auto-dumps and we will lose a sense of history and time as correspondence has become, like so many things in our age, disposable.

Have we lost meaning?  Are we doomed to lose a whole literary medium which dates back through time?

Letters Live highlighted intimate details and moments about people's lives which could not be replicated in the same way via Facebook or email.

With pen in hand and a blank piece of paper, away from the glare of the screen, the author is forced to draw inspiration from within.  The great letter-writers of the past looked to the moon in her starlit sky for deep inspiration.  They raked their souls, searching for seeds to plant in imaginary soils, to grow and flourish in the light of another mind.  They sought out details from their day, hand-picked to have just the right impact and dug deep into feeling and temper.  They spoke not to a huge audience of strangers, or someone who was going to read the message in five minutes and dismiss it, but to someone who would, in turn, sit down and read and absorb what they had taken the time to write.

Letter writing is so much more than bashing out an email on computer keys.  Your handwriting changes depending on your mood and who you are writing to.  The small notes you make in the margins annotate and shed light on your quirks and phrasing.  The doodles which accompany comedic stories are rare and personal and unique to you.

I keep all of my letters in a box.  I have not added to their number in some time.  I failed to write back to my auntie 3 years ago.  After the birth of a new baby, looking after two babies under 2 years old, moving house and going back to work, I not only fell out of the habit, but we both moved into the realm of the internet and social media.

I'm going to make a concerted effort to do more handwriting, and importantly, letter writing.  Even if it's just notes around the house.  Handwriting was always something I took pride in, and I'd like it to stay a common thing in our family.

I love how the internet has connected us, but I do feel we are in danger of losing our intimate moments to it.

When was the last time you hand-wrote a letter and who was it to?  Do any of you still write letters now, or is it better to write electronically?

Maybe I should get a pen-friend!

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