"Dear Betsy, Your thoughtfulness meant so much…"

“Does anyone write hand-written notes anymore?”

This was the lament I heard from a friend over lunch the other day. She is almost a generation older than I am, and we had been talking about blogging and tweeting and email and such. We agreed that things have really changed—certainly in her lifetime and even in mine.

Before my mother died prematurely almost-fifteen years ago, she had just gotten her first laptop, at the advent of email. Before her illness, she was an outgoing college professor and research social scientist, virtually bedridden by emphysema for her last year of life, cut off from many of her colleagues and students. I can’t help but wonder how the last year of her life might have been different if she had been connected via social networking.

In those days, lo those only-fifteen-years-ago, snail mail letters were still king. And my mother could really write a letter—with the cleanest, crispest handwriting you would ever want to see—that could bring you to tears, out of fear or laughter. And although these days I think she would be a blogger, I have no doubt she would also miss the feel of a pen and crisp linen paper in her hands and the finality of licking and sealing an envelope and dropping it in the box.

The fact is that some schools don’t even teach cursive handwriting anymore; one in Colorado now has a Cursive Writing Club assumedly to keep up a dying art. The US Postal Service is in debt to the tune of $12 billion, and it’s shutting down 2000 branches. The way we communicate is definitely changing.

For Christmas, one of my best friends, sent me some cute ornaments for my tree. Tucked into her handwritten card was a photo of her kids, and I kept putting off emailing her, knowing that she would prefer a handwritten note of thanks. Her card and photo sat on my desk for almost six weeks, until finally I logged onto Hallmark.com, found a cute electronic thank you card, and I sent it to her. Then I sent her an email apologizing for the electronic card.

I wasn’t about to do the same thing with Betsy’s. So, this morning, I rifled through my envelope and card drawer for something to use; I found a thank you card and way-too-large envelope (I couldn’t even find a match!). I picked up a pen and started to write: “Dear Betsy, Your thoughtfulness meant so much…” I know Betsy will be happy to get the card, but I was doing it as much for myself. Suddenly all the old familiar feelings of brain connecting with pen connecting with paper reminded me of why I miss the old ways a whole lot more than I realized.

I remembered the journals of my teenage and college years when the feel of a fountain pen on the paper was almost as important as the words I wrote. I thought about all the handwritten love letters my husband and I have exchanged over the years—that my children may send instead through email, SMS, or Facebook. And I thought about the handwritten letters I got from my mother when I was in college, letters that my children may only get from me in a care package of cookies.

I thought about everything I do online: check accounts and pay bills, keep up on the news and weather, look for employment, find information about…everything, keep up with old and make new friends, write, and now blog. And while it’s true that my note to Betsy probably won’t be the last snail mail letter I ever write, the way we communicate is definitely changing.

What do you think? Have you changed the way you communicate or write? Do you miss writing with pen and paper or welcome the electronics way?

Interesting postscript….while researching this blog, I searched on google for “is mail dying” and the entire first page of results were hits about email dying! Anyone ready to take the challenge to write a book on SMS (already a growing phenomenon in Japan) or Twitter (it’s been done)? Get ready for more changes ahead!


  1. gramruff says:

    I loved your blog on pen and ink writing- I am glad I inspired you!
    Looking forward to our birthday get=together.

  2. Thank you so much for visiting–and commenting! Let me say once again, your thoughtfulness means so much! Can’t wait for the birthday fun, either. Julia