NPF: THE LOST ARTS

When was the last time you wrote a letter? I don't mean an email or a Microsoft Word document; I mean sitting down with a pen and paper to write someone a letter. In my case it has been at least fifteen years, and probably more. It's just not necessary anymore with the internet now omnipresent in the developed world and increasingly pervasive in the developing. What is faster and more convenient is not always better (i.e., frozen fish sticks vs. fresh salmon) and it's becoming popular to appreciate the DIY aspect of antiquated technology, but writing letters lacks the homespun allure of making your own soap or knitting a sweater rather than buying either at Wal-Mart. Count me among those who laments but contributes to the death of letter writing. Between my indecipherable handwriting and the advantages of the electronic medium, I am not about to start communicating with a quill and inkpot to preserve the romance of a bygone era.

The decline of letter writing may be hurting us and our communication skills, but it's definitely killing the Post Office. The fact that we've replaced letters with emails is only the tip of the iceberg; cards have become eCards, bills have become electronic statements, checks have become PayPal and direct deposits, and…well, you get the picture. Combined with the fact that the US Postal Service has never been able to ship larger items as cheaply as competitors like UPS or FedEx, the Norman Rockwell-era mailman has been reduced to delivering, well, shit. Coupons for the elderly, pre-approved credit card offers for the gullible or desperate, and assorted other types of printed detritus that my rats will eventually poop on.

I get the feeling that in another decade or two we'll be telling our kids about how we used to get mail every day and bills used to be printed on paper, and they will listen to tales of the $0.22 stamp (I'm showing my age a little) in the same way that we listened to our grandparents talk of 10 cent gasoline and the mechanics of making a long-distance call in the 1930s. I suppose it's for the best, in the name of progress and all, but that doesn't mean it's without cost. Some people miss telegrams, after all.

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20 Responses to “NPF: THE LOST ARTS”

  1. Tosh Says:

    ".. the Norman Rockwell-era mailman has been reduced to delivering, well, shit."

    How true. Kind of depressing. As the P.O. becomes irrelevant we will become increasingly dependent upon our wonderful corporate masters to send and receive parcels and communications.

  2. grendelkhan Says:

    Well, I did send a letter a year or two ago. I typeset it and saved a PDF copy so I'd know what I sent and when I sent it. I think that still counts.

    checks have become PayPal

    See, this is troubling to me because it means that PayPal gets to take the vig off pretty much any transaction between any two people. Like lawyers, they don't really care who's winning or losing, just that there's some kind of action going on.

    I suppose I'm lucky that my bank offers free billpay; I've been using it to send charitable donations, because it simply arrives at the foundation or whatnot as a bank check for the entire amount. Hey, look–I'm using the Post Office to send something people actually want to receive!

  3. Michael Says:

    The post office will continue to exist as a cheap delivery system for Direct Marketing (aka, shit) and the occasional wedding invitation. At least until email marketing takes over…

  4. Shane Says:

    Every couple of weeks my husband still sits down with our daughter to write letters to his grandparents. Mostly it is for their sake. Especially when kids are little, you just can't replace the value of having things in their own hand writing. It isn't near as impressive to boast, "oh look she can type her own name." What is funny is that more often then not the replies we get from his grandparents are typed and then printed before being mailed to us the old fashioned way.

  5. judith weingarten Says:

    Condolence letters. Never, never type or email. It's the worst possible form.

  6. Web Dunce Says:

    I still write letters, send real cards and real invitations. Funny thing is that when I send an actual invitation to someone in the mail they almost always respond. When I've tried e-vites I'm lucky to get a 5% response rate. Also, there's something to be said about receiving a letter in the mail from a friend. It says they took the time to actually think about you and to formulate a narrative to let you know how they are doing. There's no harm in typing a letter and mailing it. Especially if your handwriting isn't as neat as it could be.

  7. Ed Says:

    I agree, it is just too easy to ignore email. People don't respond to it. Something about a real letter is harder to ignore.

  8. Andrew Says:

    As the great philosopher Calvin once said, "I hate to think that someday all of my life experiences will become stories with no point."

  9. Maren Says:

    Ugh. I care about this mostly because my dad has worked for the post office almost my entire life, and his quality control division at a large processing facility is down from seven people to two. He goes in at two in the morning half the time now, works twelve-hour shifts with no overtime, had to re-apply for his own job, and they would love him to retire when he hits 55 this fall but he can't possibly afford it. Basically everyone who works for the USPS is miserable and depressed and very close to being unemployed these days, if not outright forced into early retirement.

    In conclusion: start writing those letters, people!

  10. Robert Says:

    I've written at least four letters so far this year. I print them rather than use cursive, as my handwriting, while legible, is slow.

    But I AM retired/househusbanding, so have a bit more time than the average bear.

  11. Bob Says:

    Maren above hits the ball out of the park. Working for the post office meant a decent standard of living. All those electronic call centers and bill pay places pay just above minimum wage. Once again working Americans are deemed overpaid and corporate America finds a way to slash wages. Great country, no?

  12. jazzbumpa Says:

    Well, for getting a package to your family member stationed in Afghanistan, you still can't beat the USPS. Gets is there in 5 days, cookies (home made) still mostly intact, for $11.95, irrespective of weight.

    Plus, I do get the occasional Victoria's Secret catalog.

    Besides, I sent a bitchy letter to the local Gov't just last week.

    Some sort of Post Office job was the tradition in my family for two generations. It was down-hill most of that time for a variety of reasons. So, I intimately understand Maren's point.

  13. Marla Says:

    I do actually write letters. Case 1: My brother doesn't have a computer. He's a plumber and his hobbies are outdoor-related (by no means does that imply a lack of intelligence or sophistication; on the contrary he is IMO brilliant and well-informed) so he simply doesn't need one. Although of course we talk on the phone, I do send him books, gifts, etc., accompanied by real letters.

    Case 2: I write thank-you notes for parties, on a "greeting card" that doesn't have a pre-printed greeting. You know, the blank-inside type. Everyone who gets one tells me "Oh, you know you don't have to do that!" but every one of them looks pleased and a little flustered (in a good way) to receive a hand-written appreciation for their hospitality. It's the least one can do after they went to the trouble to clean their house and prepare food and drink.

    Case 3: Birthday cards. I don't even look at eCards because frankly I'm insulted and hurt that someone who considers him/herself my friend can't be bothered to do more than click a mouse finger. How exactly is that a relationship? It's not asking friends to jump through hoops to expect a little card in the mail with a hand-written wish.

    Additional datum: a hand-written letter can contain SO much more nuance and ingenuity and tone than an email or printed letter. The pressure of the pen, the underlining, the accompanying diagrams and nasty drawings – "lol c u later" just doesn't cut it as a form of communication.

  14. Mark Says:

    FexEx carries more USPS postal mail via our aircraft than USPS ships via their own trucks. Ever shipped a package through the post office? There is a good reason why FedEx and UPS now get the business that USPS used to get. Even the federal and state governments rely on us these days.

  15. Desargues Says:

    Now and then, I do write a love letter to my wife, in longhand. I grew up before these accursed word processor, so my penmanship is not too bad. And I have a fetish for fountains pens. If USPS goes under, I'll use messenger pigeons for my missives.

  16. Patti Says:

    Last letter written: Monday. Since the release of the Simpsons stamps, I have been thinking of writing a lot more. With real ink. Condolence letters should always be hand-written, as should thank you notes. If someone has gone through the trouble to do something nice for you, you owe them an actual tangible letter of thanks. Birthdays of family members and close friends also merit personal notes, especially if you do not see them often and will not be seeing them within a few weeks of the event.

    Then again, I've also canned a couple gallons of jam this summer and made my own pickles, so you can firmly throw me into the category of fan of antiquated technologies.

  17. Margo Says:

    I am 28, I check email close to daily, but I love writing letters and cards, and am geek enough to keep record of what I end – over 100 in the last year. My mum writes me one almost every week, tell you what, they can make a lousy day turn right around. Write someone a note, betcha it will make both of you feel better.

  18. Andree Says:

    I have been an avid letter writter since the dark ages, before ball point pens arrived on the market. We wrote with pens filled with ink, re-filled from the pot on the tiny desks we sat at. Due to those ink filled pens and the many changes to the schooling system in early years, my handwriting, once reaching high school, had to be 'translated' by teachers familiar with a mixture of Italics/backhand chicken scrawl, fast but for the most part illedgible. It didn't stop me from being one of the most prolific letter, story, etc writer even a journalist friend has ever known, 16 page minimum for a letter. Fortunately those I wrote to, for the most part, knew my unique style, and after a bit of a struggle, actually enjoyed these missives so much, many still exist in their, treasures to keep boxes, something which never fails to give me a thrill. Others would and still do, struggle for awhile and then into the bin or fire it goes, these ones get typewritten letters, less of a struggle for some. The more impatient types have kept and remembered certain letters, verses or idiocy I've written, which have gone on to become part of our 'group' language. Visiting the post office to purchase stamps and somehow squash the pages down enough to fit into an envelope, became part of my life and I loved it, especially when replys arrived. Stamps collected for myself, my son and others, still exist in albums all over the place, as do the handwritten post cards, birthday cards, post cards, little notes and the bits and pieces written over a lifetime, (so far). Computers crept into my memory banks when still in high school, working part-time as a Copy Girl, while studying to become one of the first female journalists in a strictly male evironment. The drives for these monaliths were huge, kept in air conditioned comfort, while we who slogged away on the impossible things, sweated and swore as they continually went haywire, in our un-air conditioned room, locked away from other workers so that no way any, 'virus' could damage the things! Now that we have elevated computers to the status of, 'must have demi-gods', those letters are still written by hand, as after working with computers non-stop for over 5 years, I developed the, "totally imagined" problem of overuse syndrome, and can barely type anymore! Holding a pen is a breeze compared to dancing my worn out fingers on these keys, and somehow the language of a hand written letter, always seem to have a language and closeness that is missing from wrapping out 100wpm on a keyboard. Long live the Post Office, the smell of old leather bound books with their flimsy pages, and the pleasure of finding real communication in the letter box other than the tons of merde we find jammed in them daily.

  19. Hah-Man Says:

    In answer to your original question: this morning. I write a lot :)

  20. Cheyenne Tromble Says:

    Well, that and GBAGI.