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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Lost Art

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I miss letters. Good, old fashioned, fold 'em up and stick 'em in an envelope letters. Personal letters, ones to friends and relatives. I love both getting and sending, but neither occurs with any regularity anymore.

The letter has been replaced by the e-mail, but e-mails don't really work as well. There is a hurried quality to most e-mails, and most are as dense and cramped as telegrams used to be. "Will be leaving in morning. Stop. Would drop by, but can't. Stop." This, of course, has been exacerbated by the use of pointless abbreviations, such as u for you and 4 for, well, for. Reading some people's e-mails can be a task as daunting as breaking the Enigma Code and far less worthwhile for the fate of Western Civilization.

There is something else about e-mails, the very speed of the thing, that contributes to its pressurized aura. I think that the knowledge that a letter would take a few days to reach its destination removed some of the pressure in its composition. I remember it well: We used to write complete sentences and spell out entire three-letter words. Instead of writing "Things are good. Please send money." followed by a smiley face, stories were told and incidents were elaborated on.

Letters are an expression of a life; e-mails, often, the expression of a need.

My e-mails tend to be too long and loquacious, too thought out and too composed. They're most likely a bore to read on a screen, and, lacking smileys to indicate my intent, difficult to decipher and easy to misinterpret. Just as you don't use a screwdriver to loosen a lug nut, you shouldn't expect e-mail to serve the function of snail mail. You just end up with an unloosened lug nut and a broken screwdriver.

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