I’ve sent thank-you letters to distant relatives and written notes to my parents from summer camp, but I don’t think I’ve ever in my life sat down to write a letter without a person or social obligation forcing me. It doesn’t upset me that snail mail is becoming obsolete, but I find it a little sad that the majority of my written communication consists of brief and only semi-grammatical text messages.
Even when I write an email, which isn’t often, it’s short and utilitarian. It has never occurred to me to put thought into how I say something; I just try to get my point across.
I do put a bit of energy into maintaining the integrity of the English language in my texts and emails. On the off chance that I write something insightful, I don’t want to mess up the effect with bad spelling.
But something about the Internet seems to encourage brevity. I have no problem sitting down for a few hours with an 800-page book, but if I see a Facebook post more than a few sentences long, I scroll past it.
We have gotten quite lazy with our communication.
This weekend I got an email from my uncle with the subject line “tnx,” which seemed ironic after I read the eloquent five paragraphs he wrote to thank me for a Christmas present and wish me happy birthday. There certainly weren’t any grammatical mistakes. In fact, before reading the email, I wasn’t aware that there were still people who said “an historical event.”
He made a math joke, went off on a tangent about mnemonic devices, and told me about his “demigrandson.” He used enough big words to remind me (probably intentionally) that his vocabulary is much more impressive than mine.
Never before in my life had I thought, “What a good email!” but his letter impressed me.
In Jane Austen books, the characters send a lot of letters. They analyze the style and appreciate when something is well written. In the few letters I’ve read by John and Abigail Adams, the same care and attention is obvious; they actually put work into their correspondence.
It’s unfortunate that their effort strikes me as strange. Once upon a time, writing to friends and family was an art.
It would be nice to go farther than the bare minimum of getting a message across. Even if no one puts pen to paper anymore, I don’t think we should give up trying to write careful, articulate, and interesting letters. It’s refreshing when someone takes the time not just to say something, but to say it well.