Given that you are all to some extent or another committed writers, I am aware that I am preaching to the converted. Nevertheless, the ill about which I intend to write inflicts even myself. Since “letters” are this week’s theme, I think it’s reasonable that we address the apparent fact that letter-writing is a dying Art.
There was a time when I wrote letters on a daily basis. Indeed there were certain periods of my life when I would say that my correspondence represented the peak of my literary achievements. That is certainly not so today.
I have been able to isolate two causes in particular, one general, and one specific. The general cause is the advent of electronic mass-communication, specifically in the form of email, but also instant messengers and forums. At the height of my epistolary output the only means of communication available to me, besides the telephone, was postal. Since I abhor the former means of communication, it is safe to say that it was the only means I used except in circumstances where urgent arrangements needed to be made.
The specific cause is lack of time. Letter writing is time-consuming. Time, like most of the world’s natural resources, is running out, and only the most far-sighted scientists are dedicating themselves to the discovery of new sources of temporal relief. Inevitably, however, due to external commitments, like nipping down to the shop to buy a loaf of bread, picking up the kids after school, and watching television, these scientists just never get round to finishing the job.
Letter writing is slow. They take time to write, and time to reach their recipients. And yet I believe they are a superior form to the email. Of course there is nothing whatsoever to prevent one from writing the exact same words in an email as one does in a letter. But I suspect that few of you would deny that for the most part you do not. I am not so old-fashioned that I believe that simply because a form is new it is necessarily bad, and it is not my intention to proove emails to be a lesser form. No doubt there is a certain amount of space to be duely committed to the study of what is good in electronic mail (and speaking from a literary point of view, I mean besides the fact that they are quicker). My point here is that for all their virtues, email cannot but be held responsible for the diminishing Art of letter writing.
Why is this a loss to be mourned? I can think of more reasons than I have time to expound here (we’re out of bread), but I think few can deny the value to history of the correspondence between great men and women of letters. Will the collected email correspondence between great thinkers eventually comprise future publications indispensable to humanity? Quite possibly. But most will be deleted, and many will lack the exhaustive detail of great letter writing.
Now that I have started I think of more and more I mean to say, but we have all week, dear readers. With this, the opening letter in my correspondence with the Uborkites, I hope to raise some heckles and hear what you have to say in response. My comments box is, however, closed. If you wish to respond, I will accept your answers by means of a letter, posted here.
Disagreeable Humourist & Man of Letters