I was astounded by this statistic on CBS Sunday Morning today:
22% of Americans under age 45 have never written a personal letter
When I think back to the many personal, intimate exchanges I had with past friends and lovers, I simply cannot believe that we no longer communicate on that level and in that way. I still have and treasure letters from old boyfriends in my twenties and thirties. It makes me sad, but also amazes me that this no longer happens.
“In the future old ‘love letters’ may not be found in boxes in the attic but rather circulating through the Internet, if people care to look for them,” said Webster Newbold, a professor of English at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
Consider this, we are experiencing a loss in what people in the future will know about us. The loss is incalculable. In earlier times the “art” of letter writing was formally taught, explained Newbold. In fact, in old China a person’s character was judged by the strength of their letter writing abilities.
“Letters were the prime medium of communication among individuals and even important in communities as letters were shared, read aloud and published,” he said. “Letters did the cultural work that academic journals, book reviews, magazines, legal documents, business memos, diplomatic cables, etc. do now. They were also obviously important in more intimate senses, among family, close friends, lovers, and suitors in initiating and preserving personal relationships and holding things together when distance was a real and unsurmountable obstacle.”
Aaron Sachs, a professor of American Studies and History at Cornell University, said, “One of the ironies for me is that everyone talks about electronic media bringing people closer together, and I think this is a way we wind up more separate. We don’t have the intimacy that we have when we go to the attic and read grandma’s letters.”
I have found through the years that writing helps me realize more clearly how I feel, and what I really need to say to those I love. The process allows me to crystallize my thoughts, and then tell the other my most intimate feelings. Is that practice also gone? Will there be no physical record of any of this in our future? This more than most changes to our culture makes me glad that my days on earth are minimal.