The art of letter writing

I was saddened to read in this morning’s Guardian that one in five children have never received a letter. I tweeted a link and a comment that it was sad. When I was a kid, I used to love letters arriving in the post. I remember the local Conservative MP writing to me about the closure of the local swimming pool. It meant a lot to me, even though back in the 1970’s he was in favour of “spending taxpayers money wisely” by closing my beloved pool. He still wrote back. I’ve never forgotten that.

Those poor kids who’ve never had the joy of opening an evelope from grandma or a pen pal in Malawi or the secretary of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club. These things should matter.

Opinion on Twitter was more divided. Some thought I was taking an anachronistic view.

“Seems like empty nostalgia to me. Like lamenting about how few children have used a plough. Or developed rickets.”

“its only sad from a nostalgia point of view. I’ve never been in a horse and cart which people would once have thought sad”

Others thought it inevitable:

“It has been downhill since cuneiform.I do get your point though, I think it is just one of those things that will pass. Like TB.”

“that is very sad. The art of letter writing is a victim of technology.”

But more thought that the art of letter writing was worth fighting for. The idea of directing ink across paper, crafting letters to form words was something to be cherished:

“my mum is a primary school teacher, and sends her 8 year olds thank you letters and birthday cards at home. They love it!”

Another, quoted Auden:

“And none shall hear the postman’s knock

Without a quickening of the heart

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”

This statement impressed me: “I sometimes hand write letters to friends. Sick of how disconnected net made us even though we’re more “connected” than ever.”

My pal Dan said  “I miss letters. Not bills, but handwritten letters from people you rate. #web0

So even the most digitally connected people love the idea of handwritten notes. I think we should create a kind of Secret Santa for handwritten letters. There must be some clever coders out there who could knock something up.

14 comments ↓

#1 Frugal Dougal on 05.22.10 at 12:32 am

Yes, the decline of letters is very sad. I remember working away from home and the joy that letters brought – and that was as an adult!

#2 Gerard Charmley on 05.22.10 at 6:54 am

Children? What about historians? There’s something comforting in knowing that Lloyd George and Lord Rosebery had worse handwriting than me.

#3 Anja on 05.22.10 at 7:43 am

When I was younger I used to write letters a lot, sometimes 9-10 pages to friends of mine. I still love it and because my family doesn’t live here, we still get hand written letters in the post (even though they do have Internet and Email), and I will make sure my children will write letters to their grandparents when they’re older too.

#4 Rob Marchant on 05.22.10 at 11:34 am

Tom, you are so right. I’ve spent half my life trying to make Labour techno-friendly but I love letters.

#5 Craig Price on 05.23.10 at 1:39 pm

You’re so right Tom. I used to have a pen-pal in Russia back in the day, I loved writing letters. Mind you, when I get a letter in the post now it scares me to death because it’s never good news

#6 To whom it may concern… | Bumph Box on 05.23.10 at 8:02 pm

[...] read a tweet from Labour MP, Tom Watson, about an article in the Guardian saying a fifth of young people have never received a letter. This was one of those small [...]

#7 Stuart Parker on 05.23.10 at 8:13 pm

Tom, any progress on the Secret Santa idea? It fits well with a project we’re working on and aligns somewhat with this http://bit.ly/9nvjky

#8 Stuart Parker on 05.23.10 at 9:37 pm

Also meant to add, am up for starting the project if not yet started.

#9 Martyn on 05.24.10 at 11:02 pm

I love to write a good letter, although I must admit it’s ‘type’ a good letter – this is because my handwriting is awful.

From day one of secondary school (in ’92) I was given a laptop (an spectrum Z88 no less) then in the fourth year an Amstrad NC200. These were ours to use in every lesson, to take home, to homework, and to print out work. This is not to mention the hundreds of PC’s dotted around the school (which at the time was pretty special).

Since that day, 18 years ago, I’ve probably used computers every day. it’s given me the passion and the skills to do what I do for a living and for fun, however my handwriting has suffered a great deal. I regret that.

#10 Diana Appleyard on 05.25.10 at 11:27 am

I am currently writing a feature for the Daily Express on the art of letter writing and I am looking for people who have had moving experiences through receiving or sending letters – or perhaps you have a letter from a famous person you cherish! Could you possibly email me at dianaappleyard@aol.com if you have a story you think would be of interest. Many thanks.

#11 Mike McNamara on 05.26.10 at 9:52 pm

When my wife and I first met I was in the Navy (circa 1970!) and she lived away from her parents in nurses digs. We spent many hours writing letters to one another as there was no other way. We have kept many of them and others from various family members.

I do still write letters to my family elders, but they are fewer as the years roll by and it is becoming less of a way of communicating which is sad.

I think I shall write a letter to someone tomorrow.

#12 Robert on 05.27.10 at 11:25 am

It’s not sad every day my grand kids write emails and then send them, they get the same excitement as i did getting letters.

Time have changed.

They also print off emails as well, so they keep them..

#13 Sam on 05.31.10 at 12:17 am

Writing and receiving letters is not a part of growing up. Although I personally prefer written letters, I wouldn’t call it “sad” that others don’t have the same interests.
Like Robert said, an email can say the exact same thing – only it saves money, paper, and fossil fuels.

#14 Robert on 06.01.10 at 1:28 pm

Its interesting that this discussion should be hosted by an MP, because it is this tiny sliver of society who are one of the last guardians of the old form of letter writing. Even when I e-mail my MP, I always get a letter in response. The thick House of Commons letterheads, often with a letterpressed portcullis logo, retain the tactile quality that the best letters possess, but which is lost in all other corporate communications.

And nine times in ten, the typed letter from MPs has a lovely fountain-penned signature on it too. This is almost certainly scribbled by the Parliamentary assistants, of course, but it is nevertheless a welcome addition to the ‘experience’.

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