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?

10 thoughts on “Letters Go the Way of Steam Locomotives

  1. Rarely. There is one friend in my life, an older woman who used to be the school secretary at my kids’ grade school. I took over for her when she retired. She ALWAYS sends me a birthday card with a handwritten note. She does this for my hubby too. And we get an anniversary card.

    Thank you for this reminder. I need to send HER a card for a change!

    • Thanks for weighing in, Terri. Yes, the older generation still believes in personal communication, even though many of them keep in touch with younger friends and relatives via computer. Just a sign of the times, I suppose.

  2. My mothers family were big letter writer…including her dad and her brothers. They wrote each other regularly. Now they e-mail to stay in touch. I’m not sure if they miss letter writing, I will have to ask my mom. However, when my mom’s aunt died we found almost every letter the family had written her over the years. My grandfather wrote his sister and his parents almost every week, my mother wrote when she moved from Roswell, New Mexico to the Big Apple, her sister wrote throughout nursing school and her brothers wrote when they were in the Navy and Marine core. We kept the letters and over the years have read through them…such wonderful nuggets of family history are fading fast in the digital era-which is sad. Write on.

    • What a sweet glimpse into your mom’s family, Katybeth! Domer’s grandma on his dad’s side was a big letter-writer, too. She used to pen pages and pages of newsy handwritten letters to me, and I treasured them for she made me feel like I was sitting across from her, drinking a cuppa and having a cookie. We probably write more in this digital age, but I don’t think our missives are as personal.

  3. I can’t remember the last time I got an actual letter. I used to have one friend, when I’d send him email, he’d reply on the back of a cheesey postcard. It was kind of fun, and it gave me something to stick on the fridge (this was before we had kids, obviously). These days, though, he emails. It isn’t the same.

    • Todd, you’re so right! Email isn’t the same. I think that’s why my friend and I have chosen to continue actually writing letters, even though we could have switched to online any time. Thanks for your visit and comments!

  4. Debbie,
    This is definitely a post after my own heart! Handwritten letters are treasures that have become relics. Now our messages are truncated, cursory and visible to all and they get lost in cyberspace. I agree with you that a handwritten letter is more personal and frees you to pour out feelings, like in a journal. How nice that you have maintained the letterwriting habit with your friend. I’m as guilty as anyone for letting my letterwriting slide into oblivion. In fact ,I don’t even remember when I last wrote or received one. It is sad!

    • When Daddy was alive, we’d often ask him what he wanted for birthdays and Christmases. He always told us, “Nothing, but your thoughts in a letter.” Now that he’s gone, I wish we kids had been more inclined to take his feelings to heart — it would have made him so happy!

  5. I have to confess that I don’t write letters much anymore except around Christmas. I do make the kids write ‘Thank You’ letters for gifts they receive for birthdays and Christmas. As an added incentive, they don’t get the gift or money until they write the card 🙂

    It is nice to get something in the mail that isn’t junk mail or a bill, though.

    • I’m so glad to see you’re continuing the ‘Thank you’ note tradition. I, too, made my son do that (nice twist, not letting them get the gift until the note is written!), and he did it under GREAT protest. However, to this day, he still writes them even though he’s off in college and doesn’t have me sitting over him any more!

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