Handwritten letters: where did they go?

Handwritten letters: where did they go?

Bri O'Dell

3500 BCE – 400 CE Egyptians used hieroglyphics as the main source of communication. Fast forward to 1860–1861 where Americans used the Pony Express as the fastest way to communicate with neighboring states. Just over a century later in 1971, the U.S. established the United States Postal Service. Because of the postal service, citizens simply wrote a letter, slapped a stamp on an envelope, and the letter was delivered to its destination within 2-4 business days. 20 years later, the first text message was sent from a computer system. Shortly after, text messaging was available on cell phones. As the cell phone evolved, many Americans became accustomed to sending short messages to their friends and family. At that moment in history, written letters were still relevant; however, within three years, texting went wireless and suddenly phone bills increased, while the price for mailing decreased. Currently in 2016, written letters are sacred.  Although handwritten letters still occasionally go through the mail, it is not a common occurrence like it was five years ago.

Handwritten letters are not just another piece of mail. Each letter is like a snowflake – they are distinctly unique. “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It’s disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there’s something visceral about opening a letter – I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting,” Actor Steve Carell said.  Many would agree with Carell. Words can not describe the meaning of a handwritten letter. “A simple ‘I love you’, or even a ‘Have a great day’ written on a post note can turn my day from good to amazing,” WO alumni  Gracie Hodge said. If a post-it note can make someone’s day, what can a handwritten letter do?

The crazy thing about letters is they can bring so much joy as well as hope to more than one person. Unlike text messages, letters can be shared with family and friends with little threat of anyone deleting the messages. Srg. Gloog, a current soldier in the US Marines, cherishes handwritten letters. “The letters bring me hope in time of distress. When you’re away from your family and friends, you begin to miss them greatly,” Srg. Gloog said. “Being able to physically hold a letter and letting the emotions come through the page is overwhelming. Letters are hope for many of us.” During World War II, wives of soldiers would write a letter to their true love every day praying they would receive it and smile. Now what do we do? We simply say goodbye at the airport and send an occasional care package during the holidays. Handwritten letters bring hope to not only one, but many.

Despite the lack of letters going to our troops fighting for our country, many do not write letters to family or friends anymore either. On holidays, we post a mass Facebook status saying “Merry Christmas to my family and friends’ or ‘Happy New Year!”, on birthdays we send a shoutout on Twitter and maybe post an embarrassing picture on Instagram with a birthday cake emoji. “It’s easier to send out a quick text message or tweet, rather than having to actually try,” WO Alumni Nathan Dailey said. It is discouraging that some are just too lazy to simply write a letter to a friend. What’s the problem? People seem  not to  understand the meaning and emotion behind letters? “I still write handwritten letters to friends on their birthdays,” Sr. Madi DeYoung said. “To see the smile on their face when they laugh at an inside joke makes me happy,” Deyoung said. Who knew that a letter would make someone happy. “Although I don’t write letters often, when I receive letters it’s heart warming. Knowing that someone took the time and effort to make me happy,” Sr. Olivia Rexford said.

Along with letters come memories. “It was my 17th birthday; my friend wrote me a letter. It wasn’t just any letter. It was a letter filled with emotion. My friend was so sweet and wrote about how I was going somewhere in life. I still have this letter to this day,” DeYoung said. Not only has DeYoung experienced priceless memories from a letter, Rexford has as well. “It was the day of my friend Aurora’s open house. I wasn’t feeling good, and she knew I wasn’t; however, I decided to go to her open house anyway. Returning the thanks, Aurora wrote me a letter. It wasn’t just another letter, it was a letter filled with inside jokes. Thanks to that letter, I was smiling for days,” Rexford said.

Handwritten letters aren’t just pieces of paper. Handwritten letters are emotions, memories and moments that can’t be forgotten. If someone is in need of cheering up, or you want to share a part of yourself with someone, go ahead and make the effort to do so with a handwritten letter. You never know how much it might mean.