The art of the letter

Monday, February 15, 2016 - 7:48pm

In this digital-savvy age, many of us are married to our technology; one can’t walk through campus without seeing students glued to their smartphones. Yet despite its old-fashioned tendency, my heart belongs to the United States Postal Service, a system traced back to the founding fathers. USPS vows “neither snow nor rain nor heat” will keep them from their job, six days a week.

Though a mailbox can be found in front of almost every residence, and one doesn’t have to look far to find a mail truck stationed on a street, letter writing has become an archaic form of communication in this digital age, so much so that the USPS faced an almost imminent collapse in 2011, threatening to shorten their work week and closing post offices to combat their budget deficit. Not even the eternal existence of junk mail could keep them in the ring, as this was quickly becoming electronic as well. “Snail mail” has become an endangered species since the uprising of email, awaiting its ultimate extinction at the hands of the digital age.

Many of my relationships revolve around a mailbox, rooted in the United States Postal Service and the archaic forms of correspondence. Letters and physical documentation are vital in stringing together my life events. The letters I’ve received remain squirreled away in old shoeboxes and desk drawers, a sort of personal time capsule lacking a “to-be-opened” date. While they aren’t poured over and read continuously, the mere preservation of these thoughts proves enough for my sentimental heart.

My string of correspondences can seem laughable when compared to the convenience of text messages and emails. Who would choose to wait two to seven days when the option of instant delivery is available? I can expect a text from my friends regularly — sentiments sent within the confines of 140 characters or less. I watch them flash to my screen, scrolling through them with the intention of storing them away in my phone to be revisited. Subsequently, I’ll end up deleting the record of correspondence during a debate over what I can part with to make room for the newest trending social media app. I crave the tangibility that comes with hard copy letters, creased within the envelopes. Digital communication can be lost at the first hint of water damage or inexplicable shutdown, but there is permanence in pen and ink.

For now, postmen around the country will fill mailboxes with bundles of envelopes, emptying their blue canvas bags. These envelopes carry the documentations of holidays, birthdays and small sentiments. Personally, they have become lifelines of correspondence between those I care for and myself. While a text or email could have done justice to my thoughts, the idea that another person took the time to sit down and compose a letter has yet to cease being flattering.

We can hastily compose a text that will be delivered only seconds later, but a letter takes time and consideration to compose. “Snail mail” hints at a sort of permanence; I have kept letters from a decade ago, yet I seldom keep emails for longer than a week — depositing them in their digital trash can after I have gleaned all I can from them. I remain nostalgic for handcrafted letters that surpass the emotional depths of a pre-printed Hallmark card.

The sending of letters has become a dying art; even my grandparents have put away their stamps and envelopes, turning to social media to learn of my goings-on. Despite its impending end, I have found immeasurable comfort within the lines of handwriting sent by my long-distance friends and family. They are filled with advice, sentiments and stories.

These words have been saved through the years. I find the letters carry both positive and negative memories interwoven between the lines, and I can trace my own history, as well as those of others, through their words. While the sending of letters may be a backward step in our progressing society, technology has yet to match the warmth and sincerity I have found in mail.