I sat down this morning and wrote a letter to a friend going through a really rough patch in his life. We email all the time and speak on the phone, but I wanted to have his full attention. I wanted to gather my thoughts carefully and put them down on paper for him to read at his own pace, and perhaps save as a keepsake of our friendship.
Everything about this process was the antithesis of communication via phone, text, tablet or computer. I thought about writing for a day or two, and during that time I reviewed what I might say to offer some cheer to his dreary days. I thought about how to really connect with him by using the best words I could to travel from here to there.
Every day, all day, we send messages to one another, reduced to bare subjects and verbs when the power of our language is best expressed in the adjectives and the adverbs. These texts and emails speed to their destinations with a tap or a click. If we misspeak, the chance to rearrange our written message is gone in a nano-second. It’s all about speed, which, unfortunately, is the enemy of emotional connection.
My kids often don’t answer their cellphones, never answer their house phones, frequently ignore emails and sometimes don’t respond to a text unless I write “Someone is standing on my oxygen hose” in the subject line. They know this is code for “Get back to me.”
To prove that we have not lost the capacity to organize our thoughts and commit them to paper, why not write a letter today, in your own hand, using a real pen? Doesn’t it scare you that children born in the last few years may never receive a real letter written by a fellow human being?
With the advent of email, much has been gained in terms of instant communication and wider contact with the people in our lives, but so much has been lost. Email itself has degraded the English language. Grammar and spelling are irrelevant. The exchanges are quick and abbreviated and concise. You don’t need much command of the language to compose an email.