Letters Go the Way of Steam Locomotives

I read this morning that the average American home last year received a personal letter about every seven weeks.

That compares to 1987, when personal letters (not counting greeting cards or invitations) arrived once every two weeks.

As a writer, I think that’s sad.

The annual survey done by the postal service points to the proliferation of electronic communication — Facebook, e-mails, Twitter, etc. — as the reason for the drop in letter-writing. Catalogs, requests-for-monetary-contributions, and advertisements aren’t figured in with this statistic.

Admittedly, I’m as guilty as the next person for sending my share of e-mail. I write My Favorite Domer almost every day, whether it’s just a quick reminder or something funny I forgot to tell him on the phone or an “I love you” or a “Good Luck on your test.”

But it’s different with my childhood best friend. She moved away when we were in junior high, and we’ve corresponded by letter ever since. What once were pages upon pages of handwriting on pretty stationery now are typically plain white papers keyed in on computer and printed out for mailing. Sure, we could call and chat or e-mail, but we don’t. We prefer to write real letters. I love seeing her familiar handwriting on an envelope in the mail, grabbing a cup of tea, and curling up to read.

A letter, I think, is so much more personal than, say Facebook. With a letter, I can be me, whereas online, I find myself more guarded in what I say and how I say it.

Another sad aspect of the decline in personal letter-writing is the shortage of “love letters.” Do you remember being separated from your beloved — even for a short time like Christmas or summer vacation — and hand writing long, intimate letters? I do. My parents’ generation did, too, during the war years, and many a home has a stack of love letters tied with pretty ribbon and stashed in the attic.

I suspect the postal service would love for personal letters to make a comeback and ease their financial woes. I’m afraid I don’t see that happening any time soon. Few of us want to give up the immediacy of electronic communication.

What about you? Do you still send or receive personal letters?