Monday, June 28, 2010

Dying Art of Letter Writing

Do anybody writes letters nowadays ? E-mails and SMSs have almost sounded the death knell for the art of letter writing. As for myself, I do not remember writing a letter in the last 10+ years or more.

I came across this wonderful article in The Hindu yesterday (June 27th 2010) on this dying tradition. Read on :

Do people still write letters, that is, by their hand? This question will seem absurd for a generation intoxicated by gadgets that eliminate face-to-face-interaction and insist on using fingers to type on keys or press mobile phone buttons rather hold pens to write on paper. Technological innovations bombard us every day at a breathtaking speed that we seldom reflect on how our social lives have changed, how social phenomena which held sway for centuries have been rendered redundant if not totally irrelevant.

Solemn obituaries have been written for the old fashioned typewriter, the pager and the telegram. Let us pause and spare a moment for the vanishing handwritten letter.

For centuries, personal letters were the dominant mode of communication among people. The postman was one of the most awaited daily visitors in the household. Emotions varied from disappointment when the postman said no letter to excitement and euphoria when he handed out an inland letter card, a post card or an envelope. The inland was the most preferred mode for personal communication as its contents could be protected from prying eyes.

The card was mostly used for conveying pithy messages not requiring confidentiality. Some chose envelopes as it could enclose several pages.

The younger generation might ask what is so great about the handwritten letter? Is it not a waste of time to sit down and write on paper which will anyway take a few days to reach the recipient when the message could be conveyed within seconds by e- mail? The advent of cheap mobile telephony has driven another nail on the personal letter's coffin.

The greeting card also reduced the need to sit down and write down loving messages to our dear ones. The once mighty pen is nowadays used mostly to put signatures.

A printed letter lacks the personal feeling and emotional affinity a written letter conveys. While reading a written letter one can visualise the scene of the writer sitting down and putting down his feelings on paper. There is an instant rapport in the written communication which the printed message or a telephonic talk could never replicate. The familiar handwriting of a dear one evokes such happiness and delight that has to be experienced to be believed. People used to preserve letters for years as these humble pieces of paper afforded companionship in absentia.

Writing a letter requires us to slow down, think and put down our thoughts on paper with careful reflection. It adds a new perspective to our thought process. An e-mail or a telephonic talk is impersonal and ephemeral. A written letter is a permanent record of communication. The greatest and noble thoughts that the world has seen have been penned by their authors on paper rather than on print. The letters of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru contained some of their loftiest thoughts. The world would have lost much if great men had used tele- conversations or e- mail to pour our their wisdom.

People used to polish their handwriting skills by writing more and more letters. Writing also helped to improve the vocabulary, whether it was vernacular or English.

The younger generation is sadly missing one of the most creative and emotionally and intellectually stimulating of human activities — writing letters. E-mails and texting reflect the inability to pause, think and create thoughts which carry the authenticity of intense feeling. The electronic letters have played havoc with grammar and structure. It is doubtful whether smart kids can write an error-free page with clarity. This is not to generalise the weakness. But the sad truth is known to those who are in finishing schools which teach soft skills to the ‘educated' unemployed. Instances of bloomers and absurd letters abound. A techie wrote a letter requesting leave for attending his mother's funeral stating that he was ‘responsible' for his mother's death!

The intent is not to trivialise technology. Ironically, this piece has been typed on a computer and sent by e-mail. But the point is that we must occasionally use the pen and paper medium at least for personal communication. My advice to the young people who work at distant places is to try writing a letter to your parents for a change. Hearing your voice over the mobile is comforting and reassuring. But a telephonic conversation is forgotten soon. But reading your handwriting on paper opens a floodgate of nostalgia and emotional satisfaction which no other medium of communication can replicate. The pen is mighty even in this electronic age. Let us wield it occasionally to create islands of tranquillity and happiness in the vast ocean of sick hurry and digital surfeit.

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