What Does The Written Word Mean These Days?
There’s an Arcade Fire song that I love called “We used to Wait”…one verse says, “We used to wait for letters to arrive…now it seems so strange…how something so small could keep you alive.”
As long as I can remember, getting the mail has been one of my favorite ritual moments throughout the day. The epitome of “Anything Can Happen”. Could be a check, a scholarship, a friend reconnecting, a magazine bearing ideas that lead to opportunity. Oh, sure, it could be bills, too, but I choose to love the mail anyway.
I revere stationary, embossers, cool stamps, pretty much anything that makes the epistle feel distinctive. But it’s been so long since I sent a real letter in the mail, these days I mostly peruse my paper collection only to write notes to teachers. And THAT’S only when I don’t just send them an email.
But despite the proliferation of other methods of written communication- blogs, email, Facebook walls, and text messages- I still have a treasured collection of letters I have been sent.
Some from my husband before we married, some from my dear departed Grandmother, one from a friend on hiatus in New Zealand who wrote the letter on daisy wheel printer paper between the lines of a car rental agency’s business. Each of their personalities infuses the letters in a way that just never happens with email.
But that ritual may be a distant memory for our kids. According to “Beyond The Beltway”,
The Postal Service experienced a 13 percent drop in mail volume last fiscal year, more than double any previous decline, and lost $3.8 billion. The projections anticipate steeper drops in mail volume and revenue over the next 10 years, and mounting labor costs only complicate the agency’s path to firm fiscal footing.
Ouch. At the very least, Saturday delivery is threatened, and the USPS is considering closing 330 neighborhood post offices. The perfect storm of the recession coupled with the rise of electronic media is what really did a number on the first class volume of the USPS. Throw in the credit crunch, and companies sending out far less credit card offers to the preschoolers and neighborhood pets of America, and indeed the times they are a changin. Why, my baby is four, and he hasn’t even received his own pre-screened Mastercard offer yet.
All junk mail jokes aside, I think in this era of increasingly cluttered electronic communication, the power of the handwritten word is exponentially increased.
One area I know it carries more weight is in politics- when a Senate or House page receives a blast of letters copied and pasted off the same public influence group’s website, they can figure out rapidly what the source is and attribute it more to skillful mobilizing tactics than genuine passion about the issue. Or, a bit of both. But if a constituent takes the time to hand-write a letter and formulate their own opinion…well. Let’s just say those are treated with a bit more gravitas in their handling, according to my lobbyist friends.
And, of course, just as a random lovely surprise for your friends. Who can you write a letter to today, or drop a birthday card in the mail? You’ll make their day for a mere 40 something cents, and help the USPS at the same time. TOTAL win-win.