The Lost Art of Handwritten Letters

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” ~Phyllis Theroux

Changes in the world aren’t limited to fast-evolving technology. Many people communicate today by sending email or texting messages. What impact do have these forms of communication have on our interpersonal skills today and how do they change our relationships?

The increase in text messaging has increased over the past few years. It’s quick, hip and fast. Emails are similar. You get one and instantly return a reply just as quickly. You get right to the point and feel that you have “communicated”. Most times it’s a short reply answering what the e-mailer asked or a brief acknowledgement that you received it; a few sentences that don’t seem to convey or warrant a thought process.

The thought behind text-written sentences is hidden even more by the cryptic codes and abbreviations that texters and even those using IM, SMS, emails, cell phones, iPhones, Blackberries, etc., all use when sending brief messages. Acronyms play a big role and this “shorthand, online jargon, and leetspeak” are a language onto themselves. “Emotions” can be expressed usually by smiley face emoticons or “shouting” which is not proper etiquette – expressed by typing in ALL CAPS. For example, I was waiting at the store, and YOU NEVER SHOWED UP. 🙁

Imagine Robert Browning sending text love messages to Elizabeth Barrett Browning when he became interested in her poems. What if Robert had texted to Elizabeth: “CUL8R CUZ ILY 4EAE” which means for those who don’t text, “See you later because I love you forever and ever.” I wonder if their relationship would have progressed into one of the most famous courtships in literature history.

What has happened to handwriting as a communicative tool? It’s a sad fact today that children usually are not taught cursive writing in schools. USA Today reports that penmanship is left behind as states assign dominate class time for literacy ~~  handwriting is not a priority. Many children today cannot read handwriting let alone write it. Although 90 percent of teachers surveyed said that they do teach handwriting, they say they spend 60 minutes a week or 15 minutes a day teaching it.

Anyone who has been taught the Palmer method of handwriting spent more time than that learning to write. The Palmer Method was developed by Austin Norman Palmer around 1888 and became the most popular handwriting system in the early 1900s. It lasted until displacement by the movement to teach printing instead of cursive as the dominant handwriting style for students. And they all print today.

Besides being a deterrent in not being able to sign and write out a check or sign a will, handwriting is a personal signature reflection of a person. What would handwriting experts do without them?

The lost art here is the personal, intimate handwritten note or letter. There are directives today in busness to add a special touch to your customers so that a ‘relationship’ is formed for future or referral business. In these down economy times, an added word of concern or personalization makes you feel that someone in business is looking out for your welfare. Notes or brief letters to customers have become an ‘in’ thing to do. They do make a difference even though you are aware that it is a business ploy since a handwritten note on your birthday or on a holiday adds a specialness even to the business relationship.

Even more so is this intimacy enjoyed through people we love as well as friends, acquaintances or budding relationships. A hand-written note is a personal reflection from someone expressly centered on you.

 A posted hand-written letter received by you can lift your spirits on a congratulatory event, enjoying appreciative thanks for something, an invitatin to a special gathering, or commisserating with something you have lost. You might have a milestone birthday or anniversary, have been recognized for something out of the ordinary, or simply receive something that someone thought you might want to know about. When you receive these special remembrances, you usually leave them out on the mantel for some time and relive the special, good feeling you got when you received it. As Liz Carpenter remarked, “What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can’t reread a phone call”.

There are many reasons to revive letter writing. Anyone who has letters from a loved one tied together with a ribbon, or a shoebox of notes and letters from the past, or letters written during a separation relive the experience of visiting them once again. I save every handwritten note that was ever written to me. A few were the last communication I received from a person, and some were recognition laurels I didn’t realize I had done and some were silly, past experiences that still bring a smile to my face. They are all special to me.

“What a wonderful thing is the mail, capable of conveying across continents a warm human hand-clasp”. ~Author Unknown

There is hope in bringing back handwriting as the Palmer method is experienceing renewed attention. Because the Palmer method has a focus on shoulder and arm movements, it is helpful for many with limited movement of the fingers.working in facilitated communication for the disabled. The focus on shoulder and arm movements, it is helpful for many with limited movement of the fingers.

Perhaps, too, it will help others with limited use of conversational communication to again express words of intimacy.

“The best time to frame an answer to the letters of a friend, is the moment you receive them. Then the warmth of friendship, and the intelligence received, most forcibly cooperate”. ~William Shenstone

© Marie Coppola May 2013