The lost art of writing

I can’t remember when I last received a handwritten letter. On real paper, written in ballpoint pen, or even better, fountain pen, delivered in an envelope with a handwritten address on it. It must have been at least two decades ago.

But I do remember the feelings that such a letter could evoke. The delicious leap of expectation and anticipation when opening the mailbox and spotting a handwritten envelope amongst the regular bunch of invoices and advertisements. Pure joy!

I used to take my time reading these letters. I would sit in a comfortable chair and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while savoring the carefully chosen words; I would notice the precision with which the sender had written each single word and try to interpret all the subtle signs left on the paper like small stains, crumples or tiny dog-ears.

Of course I would answer the letter, but not immediately; I would take a day or two to think about my reply and about the experiences and thoughts I wanted to share with the sender. And then I would sit down for at least an hour and carefully formulate my response, doing my utmost to write as neatly and clearly as I could, starting all over again if I made a mistake or felt that the chosen wording didn’t sound as good once committed to paper.

Writing someone a letter took time and required careful attention; you wouldn’t just scrawl something on paper, disregarding grammar, spelling or tone of voice, and then go to the trouble of folding it, putting it in an envelope, buying a stamp and going to the nearest mailbox to mail it. The thought wouldn’t even occur to you.

With the arrival of the Internet, e-mail and social media, all of this care and attention seems slowly but surely to have disappeared. When it comes to written communication we just shoot from the hip. We don’t take the time to read something properly and we take even less time to write properly. But we get it off our chest, that’s all that matters.

Within just a few decades we seem to have forgotten the art of writing, something that mankind has developed over thousands of years. And the only reason I can think of is that it has simply become too quick and easy. Communication requires almost no effort and our transient messages last no longer than a few hours or days. In the case of Snapchat they don’t even last beyond 10 seconds. So why should we care?

At the risk of being perceived as old-fashioned and totally out of step, I would like to point out one reason why we should care: respect for one another. Because let’s be honest, a carefully phrased, correctly written message in a pleasant tone of voice surely makes one feel much better than a hastily composed, careless note containing any number of spelling and grammar mistakes?

Of course, many of us just don’t have the time. But luckily help is at hand. So why not just Smile?