Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Twitter vs. Handwritten Letters

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Jan• 25•13

images-14Over on Head, Heart, Hand, David Murray linked to an infograph featuring the 50 things technology has replaced. I busted out laughing when I read dialing *69 to find out who last called you. My kids wanted to know what was so funny, so I had to explain myself while they looked at me like I was ancient (and then my 13-year-old schooled me on the new use of *69 to block your call so that you can prank someone).

While I’m glad to see many of these measures replaced, I was surprised when I saw #11–handwritten letters. Gasp!  I am not letting these treasure go without a fight! So I wondered about some of the reasons for writing less. The obvious answer is speed and convenience. An email or text message reaches us much quicker than snail mail, as they call it. Okay, I get that. But we need to look at what we are losing with this trade.

With email we are losing some valuable written interactions. Think about some of the correspondences that we now have published between scholars, or even lovers. Emails are disposable. But in the past, these communications were valued enough to be saved, and even publicly distributed. Our modern-day professors, presidents, theologians, and other thinkers will not have this kind of legacy to leave behind unless someone is hacking into their email accounts.

Because of our new technology, I think we have a different mentality about the transient nature of our words. We have a cheaper use for them. Instead of writing your spouse a love letter, you shoot them a text, or maybe publicly proclaim their worth to you on Facebook. But this is forgotten and replaced by just a few more status updates. Are our thoughts mere status updates?

This mentality seems to carry over even when we spend time with our thoughts and words. Take blog posts for example. I can meditate and reflect on something as deep as strength to prevail in the Christian life, bearing my soul to you guys. While it is wonderful to read the comments on how some of my readers have reflected on my words, and it is nice to see that maybe it received a high viewing audience, it will just disappear into the blogosphere by the time it cycles into the dreaded “previous page” or archives section. “Archives” is no longer an exciting word. Who wants to dig through a cyber slush pile? With the information age in full blast, it’s all about novelty. What are the new thoughts, today? We don’t want to miss out on what so-and-so is thinking right this moment.

And so we have Twitter. This is like the epitome of disposable thoughts. We’ve gone from the age of handwritten letters to replaceable one-liners. Constantly updating. It is a shift in mentality. We’ve traded quality of words for quantity. I’ve said before that I think Twitter’s best use is as a cyber community bulletin board, kind of like Tim Challies’ A La Carte gone global.

Maybe blogging, texting, Facebook, and Twitter have made us feel more important than we really are—like our one-liners are valuable enough to publicize. But I think it has inadvertently done another kind of switcheroo in our thinking. Maybe it has also affirmed the unimportance of our thoughts as they are floating around in a cyber-sea of everyone else’s thoughts, being replaced by the latest status update. Now we have to think about speaking at opportune times when more people are tuned in. And maybe this is another reason we handwrite less, because we don’t think that our words are that important to keep.

So think about the message that you would be sending to someone if you did handwrite them a letter: “You are valuable enough for me to get out paper and pen. I am willing to let you see my flawed handwriting and ink bleeds. But the fact that I am handwriting and delivering this means that I am thinking about the quality of the words that we share.”

Sure there’s a place for our more disposable thoughts—ample place! But spend some time for the keepers as well.

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9 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    I was pleasantly surprised by this post! My life-long favorite hobby is postal letter writing! Yes, I write “pen-pals” and I write about a dozen people around the USA and world. I also make an effort to still communicate by post to others as well. At Christmas, I write a personal handwritten note along with each Christmas card. I send postal cards for special occasions or just to let someone know I am thinking of them. There is something very special about opening the mailbox and finding a letter you can touch and hold with handwriting and other personal touches. I do use e-mail, twitter, facebook and such, but the post shouldn’t be forgotten! And you are so right: “We’ve traded quality of words for quantity.” When I sit down with a pen to write, it slows me down, forces me to think and consider what I want to write, etc and it leads to a different type of communication altogether. THANKS for this great post and reminder to not let some old things go to the wayside!

  2. Laura says:

    Oh dear – I just looked at the 50 things technology has replaced link. Uh – I still do many of the things – like print photos, make photo albums, have an address book, write handwritten letters, use public payphones, look up things in dictionary, handwrite school work, send postcards, visit yard sales, go to the bank to conduct business, etc, etc!!!!

  3. Tricia says:

    Excellent thoughts! I totally agree that technology has changed the way we communicate. However, just to play “devil’s advocate” here, or maybe just show my own perspective – I recently started blogging, but I found myself at Barnes & Noble bookstore just yesterday shopping for stationary. Like real pieces of paper and envelopes so that I can write some real letters! Perhaps it’s because I feel exactly what you’re talking about. As I was reading though, I thought it was funny that doing something “transient” has actually led me to desire something more “permanent.”

    • Aimee Byrd says:

      I know what you mean, Tricia. But I am finding that I have plenty of blank stationary with good intentions stashed away.

  4. Tim says:

    I’m not as prolific in my letter writing as Laura by any means, but I do send handwritten notes when I want someone to know that they have touched me in an extraordinary way. On a lot of the other ways that folks say tech has replaced traditional ways of doing things, I’m still back doing the old fogy methods. But then again, I’m an old guy.

    Tim

  5. Kim Shay says:

    I have loads and loads of tweets and facebook status updates that never get posted, because I write them, by hand, in a notebook. I actually had a friend make me some personalized stationery for notes. When I give recipes to friends, I write them out instead of sending a link. I keep the recipes given to me so that I have a piece of that person’s handwriting. One of the most precious things I have is a page of recipes my aunt and mentor gave me as a teen. I’ll never part with it. I will always keep a paper notebook. I save it for my best thinking :)

  6. Love nice cursive writing, which has gone by the wayside and may be why some people do not write notes.

    Big shock to me that brides and grooms don’t send written thank you notes. Where is Emily Post these days!

    But, I am no better. I pinned David Murry’s 50 things on a Pinterest Board.

  7. Yes, this is an important encouragement and reminder that we need to have present.

    Thanks!

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