Rags of Light

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Here’s a powerful testament to writing actual letters, from a plain-text advocate:

Q: Is there anything you can’t do with plain text?

A: Let me tell you a story. About five years ago my uncle sent me an email with the text of a letter from my grandfather, while he was serving in the British Army during World War II, to his mother, written on VE Day in 1945. The text was interesting and I certainly got insights from reading it.

However, a few weeks later he sent me a scan of the actual handwritten letter. What a difference that made! Seeing his handwriting, that I knew well from the letters that he had sent me decades later, made the letter come alive for me. I could see where he had scored out text and chosen to write other words. I could see where he had paused in writing, perhaps thinking about what to say (and what not to say). There’s a whole lot of meta-information that gets lost when you reduce something to plain text.

As a result of this experience, I’m now trying to handwrite more of my personal letters and notes to close family and friends, rather than just send them an email. It’s slower to write and there’s the added expense of postage but I think that it makes for much more meaningful and sincere communication.

As many of us who try hand-written correspondence have learned, it’s very difficult to get a two-way letter correspondence going in our instant-messaging day. If you undertake the beautiful work of writing real letters, realize that your rewards will probably be more solitary than you might have hoped.