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The written letter: A slowly dying art form?

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By Sean Kawakami


The power of social media has dwindled physical, intimate communication and, more precisely, love.

It’s convenient nowadays to contact someone through Facebook Messenger or text messages, but that limits seeing each other’s presence.

With the rapid rise of technology, keyboard shortcuts and abbreviations, handwritten letters and postcards have become more of a foreign concept. The generic Times New Roman or Cambria typeface has replaced the distinct, nonchalant cursive letter people once wrote. I often think about letters and how powerful they are nowadays. The thought comes at spontaneous moments.

Sometimes it’s nice to receive a handwritten letter from your family, friend or loved one rather than a typed one. It’s more personal.

It’s possible to see where the person messed up, the occasional ink smudges throughout the paper from their hands when writing the letter, the way the person wrote certain letters and words, and it can be kept. The beauty is captured in the written craft in a much more personable way.

Just a few months ago when I was in Japan my grandmother pulled out my grandfather’s letter to his parents from when he was around my age. There were about five sheets of paper, neatly written in Japanese, each character as graceful as ever. My grandmother read a few sentences aloud for me, mainly about how he was doing fine in college and how he aimed to study well.

Even though these letters weren’t directed to me, I still felt close to him. I imagined him at the time on his desk under the dim light, writing each kanji character with meticulous care.

Granted, it’s so much more convenient to use social media to contact people, but I often wonder what it would be like if we didn’t have social media. The millennial generation lives in the era of online communication.

When I was younger, back when we had word count limits for texts, I still remember that my mother’s friend had sent me handwritten fax messages with a small smiley face at the bottom.

Without Facebook Messenger, unlimited text messaging and Skype, among other communication methods, would we treat each message more carefully? Would we think about what to write a bit more? Would our handwriting get better?

Love was probably more powerful in the old days.

There was neither Skype nor Snapchat so people couldn’t see each other’s faces, there was no text so people couldn’t communicate often, there was no Facebook so people couldn’t see each other’s sweetheart’s updates.

There was the phone, but sometimes it wasn’t enough. When seeing each other for the first time in months or even years, imagine how powerful and joyful a couple must be.

What comes to mind is Miss Breed. Clara Estelle Breed was a librarian at the San Diego Public Library from 1929 to 1945, the era of the Japanese-American Internment. She was a lovable mentor for all the children who came to the library, including the Japanese-Americans.

Yet when she found out that they were required to be sent out to desolate concentration camps, she was outraged, and gave many of them stamped and addressed postcards on the day of their departure, encouraging them to write their experiences. More than 250 vivid and clearly written letters came. Today, most of them are preserved at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

Of course I will continue to use Messenger or text messaging whenever contacting friends and family, but at times, it’s ideal to send a few handwritten letters as it allows us to see one another in a whole different, personal perspective. No one person has the same handwriting as anyone else.

Write on.

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