• Matthew Emerson

Why You Should Write Letters

We live in a constantly communicating world. We have texting, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger all for instant communication--Not to mention tagging on posts, commenting on threads, and liking/retweeting to even further "deepen" the level of online communication. We are connected to everyone in some way all of the time. While this may be beneficial for a whole host of reasons, an extremely popular way to communicate with one another has tragically fallen to the wayside thanks to this boom of connectivity.


This post is not to disparage all of modern communication. As our world has become more globalized, it has also grown smaller and a lot more connected. We all need to be this connected by necessity, but that doesn't mean we can't lament the loss of some of the more intimate forms of communicating.

Letters were the primary form of long distance communication between humans since we invented language. Letters hit their sweet spot of usage probably starting around the 1700s and up until the invention of near instant communication. While letters were often used in noble circles for diplomatic agreements and back door politics, the average person who picked up a pen and paper were just trying to keep their friends or extended family up-to-date on what was going on in their lives.

1. They are more intimate.

Biologically speaking, writing letters engages a different part of the brain than typing on a touch screen or even the keys of a keyboard. It's more creative and artistic than the cold-logic of pressing a couple buttons.

Taking the time to set aside the time and space to write a letter can be difficult in a world that prioritizes efficiency and multitasking rather than what could be described as an unnecessary task. In writing a letter you get to pull your emotions and thoughts out of the abstractions of your brain and make them concrete on a page.

Another thing that makes it intimate is that you can only send as much information that you're willing to write or have enough pages to write on. This makes you prioritize information what you want to send. It also makes you have to predict how long it might be til you hear back from this person again. What you had for breakfast seems less important than writing about how you feel out of place and alone at your college.

Instead of just word vomiting to the person, you have to chose what aspects of your life and thoughts that you want to share with the person.

It makes writing the letter an intentional act and not just boring small talk.

2. It can become a ritual of life.

As mentioned in #1, it's hard to just sit down and write a letter. There is a process that goes into it. Find a good pen and some proper writing paper (if you can). Clear a place on your desk that can be your writing spot. Re-read the previous letters you've received from the person to remind yourself of what you've already spoken of.

Sending and receiving letters can be a ritual in and of itself. Once you send the letter, you get to wait until you receive it back. It can be a nice surprise. It can be a small pick me up that you forgot about that comes back and brightens your day when you're stressed. Back in the day, when people had several friends/family that they were corresponding with, they would set aside an hour of the day to respond to letters sent to them. Could you imagine setting aside a whole hour of the day just to talk to friends?

3. It gives you something to leave behind that gives a look into your mind.

If any of you are Lord of the Rings fans you may know where I'm going with this. Do you know that so much of what we know about the world of Middle Earth comes from the personal letters of Tolkien? Or that much of Freudian and Jungian psychology would be underdeveloped if we did not have their letters to consult and inform our perspectives on their respective theories?

Letters provide concrete insight into our minds. We have been able to read the hearts of so many great thinkers thanks to the letters they've left behind, and the generosity of their family in sharing them with the public. Recently, I found some love letters sent between my grandparents (both now deceased) and reading them brought such a smile to my face. I was able to see in words their love that I so regularly saw when I would visit them. It's an anchor to the past. If you leave letters behind, generations of family that you may not ever get to know get to have some chance to get to know you long after you've passed away. What a treasure and gift that is.

In conclusion, letters are an extension of our very "self." Writing them can be hard and take some time (especially if your handwriting is as poor as mine), but they are a gift. So, I challenge you here. Pick a friend or family member that would be interested in doing this with you. Figure out which one will send the first letter, and get writing!

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