The not so dead art of letter writing
AN INVESTIGATION OF THE UNCONVENTIONAL
In a society of that is becoming digital day by day, it is easy to disregard the physical world. As humans we seek stimulation in large amounts constantly searching for the next best thing to satisfy our needs of consumption and existence. This book documents the key research and insights I have obtained regarding the handwritten letter and why it’s value shouldn’t be undermined. Including some letters and envelopes I personally wrote and created around the subject of the handwritten letter that I sent to participants that followed the project.
Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter
THE PEN EMPOWERS THE PERSON The handwritten letter has changed the world in the past. Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Samantha Smith are just a few examples that created change with pen and paper.
WANT TO STAND OUT AND HAVE YOUR IDEAS READ? Letters have become a rare commodity in today’s internet driven society. A letter from another human being, excluding bills and government produced letters, are exciting packets of communication. They contain style, meaning and purpose that has been tailored for the receiver by the sender. Compare this to email and internet messaging that follow the same format and appearance no matter who you are communicating with. A letter will draw attention. Send a letter, be the one who doesn’t follow conventional routines of society. Your ideas will mean more in your own personal handwriting. Even if your letter gets discarded at least it will remain in the physical world longer than an email or messsage that can be deleted ina flash from the digital world.
ORIGINAL ACTIVISTS A letter from Birmingham Jail The American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, challenged the behaviour of America towards injustice and demanded action from those standing watching from a far. The letter was published into newspapers where it would leave a legacy after his death in 1968 inspiring many to take action against injustice.
A diamond found in Siberia In 1982 an American girl called Samantha Smith aged 10 years wrote a letter to Soviet Leader Yuri Andropov. The letter congratulated the Soviet Leader on his new role also questioning the tension between America and Russia, mentioning the possibilities of nuclear war. She finished the letter, “God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please let’s do what he wanted and have everybody be happy too.” The leader replied less than six months later expressing attitudes of peace, inviting Samantha and her family to be welcomed into Russia.
“Letters are something from you. It's a different kind of intention than writing an email.” ~ Keanu Reeves
fully aware, fully present
TO PAUSE AND REFLECT Letters can be a therapeutic way to remind yourself of recent events, especially with the fast pace of life we are used to living. Letter writing encourages the sender to reflect on their current state. Being aware of how you are feeling, what is happening in your life and your development as a human can prove to be very beneficial for your well-being. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing. Not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us, which can be difficult to do especially with amount of information and distractions we have around us casued by digitial technology.
ADVICE FROM A HERO In 2006 a lady named Crystal Nunn sent a letter to Stephen Fry regarding her battle with depression. She stated on her own personal blog that at the time she felt very alone and needed someone to confide in. Being her hero, she sent a letter to Stephen Fry asking him to help ease the pain, as he too had been through depression. Fry replied with a two sided letter outlining his perspective on depression that had previously helped himself with the illness. Crystal stated that the letter helped her during the deepest days of her depression.
Reflecting may open up reasons to write to others. Maybe there’s a conversation you need to have with someone, something you need to tell them or maybe you need to seek advice and help in a situation or similarly you may decide to help others. Sharing emotions and thoughts are a great way to bring closeness within a relationship with someone. Recalling memories, you share with someonecan also provide entertaining topics of personal written communication.
“Letter writing is an excellent way of slowing down this lunatic helterskelter universe long enough to gather one’s thoughts.” - Nick Bantock
Whilst carrying out this project on handwritten letters, I have reflected most on my time at University in Bournemouth. 14.
The three years have gone by in a flash. It feels like yesterday I was moving into my first house and meeting my tutors and peers. 15.
Now and FOREVER, Forever and Always
TREASURE THE WORDS OF OTHERS Keeping letters from loved ones close to the heart can give us words to carry us through life. These artefacts are accounts of the past recording emotions, events and interactions, each with a person’s identity assigned to the individual letter. The physical presence of a letter can be treasured allowing the words from family members to live on, even if the person is no longer with us. When reading the letter of someone we know or knew well we can often picture their voice. Allowing us to form a special connection with the words.
NOSTALGIA NECESSITY Nostalgia evokes the sense of a time or place. It is based on memories and experiences that we store in the form of positive thoughts and emotions. The physical object of a letter can be a nostalgic artefact in itself, that helps a person to remember ‘simpler times’ before social media and internet messaging. This nostalgia also relates closely with the content of the letters.
Psychologist Constantine Sedikides suggests that delving into nostalgic elements helps us find meaning in life, allowing us to “move forward with less fear and greater purpose.”
2 BILLION LETTERS, 19,000 MAILBAGS A DAY Two periods of time that must be mentioned with regards to the handwritten letter are WW1 and WW2. Where remembering home was vital. The handwritten letter was prevalent throughout both world wars. They enabled a form of comfort from the separation that soldiers were facing. It helped them to remember their homes and loved ones reinforcing the reasons for their fight, also allowing the soldiers to write to their loved ones to reassure them that they were okay. Letters were debatably one of the biggest morale boosters for soldiers during the World Wars. Explaining the reasons for many countries prioritising the delivery of letters as high morale soldiers would fight better than deflated low mood soldiers. Across the whole of WW1, 2 billion letters were sent. 19,000 mailbags a day equalling around 12 million letters required huge amounts of space on cargo ships and transportation. Letters during WW2 were slightly different, many were transported as V-mail (Victory mail). This format would see letters photographed onto a negative thumb sized film that would be transported and printed to letter size closer to the letter destination. 37 mailbags were reduced to 1, reducing transport weight from approximately 2,500lbs to a much lighter 45lbs.
“Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It's disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there's something visceral about opening a letter - I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.” ~ Steve Carell 19.
When creating the designed envelopes for my participants to read, I thought about the letters that I could have sent and received from my grandparents if they were still around. 20.
I definitely would have valued the stories of my Granddad’s army days and my Nan’s stories of raising my Dad and Uncles.
Out of the blue, And Directed to you
AN UNEXPECTED TANGIBLE ARTEFACT Who doesn’t love a surprise? Letters through the postbox can brighten the receiver’s day. The anticipation alone provides an experience that is unfamiliar with everyday messaging that occurs on social media and the internet. Whether it’s a letter to family or a friend, letters can be a great way to contact the people close to you.
A ‘LOST’ ART FORM The handwritten letter is an art form that could be categorised similar to vinyl records and polaroid cameras. They are no longer the mainstream subject of their field, however they still have a place to be appreciated and admired by those who decide to interact with them. Letters aren’t limited to cursive and script displays of handwriting they can be compositions of art, patterns and photographs. Almost anything can be applied to letter writing if you are creative enough! Each part of the letter from the paper and pen choice, the structure of your words, the way the letter greets and signs off, the envelope appearance all contributes to the final artefact of a letter. The more attention and focus applied to each of these elements the more wonder that can be created by the letter.
“I think I became a writer because I used to write letters to my friends, and I used to love writing them. I loved the idea that you can put marks on a page and send it off, and two days later, someone laughs somewhere else in the world.”~David Nicholls
When considering what causes surprise, I immediately thought of films. Often scenes have emotions attached that we remember especially if they take us by surprise. 26.
The theme of films could have also linked nicely with the category of remembering. The 80’s films presented here may produce a sense of nostalgia for many.
I used kraft card to form the envelopes for the surprise letters, this combination with white and black pen helped the illustrations to visibly pop.
Unique to every individual
EFFICIENCY VS INTIMACY How long do you actually spend communicating with people now? With emojis, gifs and text chat meaningful communication could be considered dead. Social media and the internet have affected society hugely in a fairly unnoticed manner. The development of these platforms and ‘social’ mechanisms has led to modern day depersonalisation. Where the core value of personal communication is being lost.
THE MOST CONNECTED, The University of Arizona found that smart phone dependence led to a higher rate of depression and loneliness among young adults. This shows the impact of social media and importance of self-control. Quality personal interaction is high in value especially as it’s becoming harder to find as technological systems are being put in place that often distract us from the real world.
DISCONNECTED GENERATION Letters are the ultimate personal communicator, away from face-to-face communication. They require effort that alludes intimacy. Each letter is different containing personal touches and features of humanisation. They encourage style and individuality that is often lost in digital text. When a person receives your letter they understand the time that you have taken, it’s exciting to know that someone has gone out of their to personally send a letter to you. Could you replace the time you endlessly scroll through social media at home with some time spent writing letters to those close to you?
“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” ~Phyllis Theroux 30.
When I first started this project I wanted to get back in contact with family members that I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I felt this would be important in understanding how I could implement letter writing into my everyday life. 31.
At the end of the project I wrote a letter to myself that I will hopefully reflect on in the future. I established a few points that I felt was important including some questions. 37.
The Pet Peeve Project After researching the handwritten letter and concluding that letters can be used to change, pause, remember, surprise and be personal. I wanted to test one of these conclusions to form a collection of letters that would relate to this research.
The conclusion that stood out to me most was the possibility to change with letters. I felt this would have a wider effect on society rather than just causing benefits to myself such as the pausing and remembering conclusions.
People find change difficult, people find asking others to change even more difficult, especially face to face.
There are many things that can go wrong and often people shy away from changing the things around them until it’s too late.
I chose pet peeves as my playing field for change, I felt the little everyday annoyances that we all suffer with could be a good place to start.
I put out multiple social media posts to find out people’s pet peeves, I then formed letters around these pet peeves provided by the replies from social media. 43.
The results from The Pet Peeve Project were very positive. I had too many pet peeves to choose from. I chose 10 that I found particularly entertaining, sparking conversation with each of the people that had provided the pet peeve. I then used these conversations to inspire the content for the letters.
I wanted to make sure that the pet peeves were kept anonymous throughout. Using names and addresses only inspired by the pet peeve provided. I also ensured that I was only creating content on behaviour that I believe could be changed. As I did not want this project to become offensive which would contrast the original purpose.
Overall I this project was insightful... An overall understanding of communication, whether personal or to wider audiences is that it is constantly shifting. What we understand as the main way of communicating will change in a matter of years. In the digital age, systems and platforms get replaced as new technology becomes available. Often older platforms become unsupported and their user count shortly diminishes, until it comes to a point where the online platforms are removed. Physical communication will always exist, paper and pen will certainly live on for a long time. As previously mentioned the handwritten letter can be treasured throughout our lives. It will be interesting to see how social media develops and whether it will continue to be a prioritised method of sociability.
“So look up from your phone, shut down the display. Take in your surroundings, make the most of today. Just one real connection is all it can take. To show you the difference that being there can make.” ~ Gary Turk
Think again to whom will you write?