The power of a simple letter KLMircea

‘What can travel the world without ever leaving its corner?’ a friend asked during a round of riddles in the latest quarantine quiz.

It is, of course, the humble stamp.

Affixed to wartime love letters and notecards to far away friends alike, the postage stamp has facilitated the disclosure of information and intimate thoughts since its first issue in 1840.

But in 2020 electronic communication is all the rage. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and other online platforms have revolutionized the way we keep in touch with one another. In an age of technology where we can achieve instant communication with the touch of a few buttons and at almost no cost, it seems like postage, snail mail, has been relegated to a thing of the past.

Yet at a time when travel in the local area let alone international travel is heavily restricted for a lot of us, I’ve found myself relishing the traditional pen and paper method more often to keep in contact with friends. Whilst the plethora of apps at our fingertips certainly make lockdown a little easier, nothing is cherished and revisited like a physical handwritten note, bearing a permanence and uniqueness, capturing and immortalising the musings of one person to another at a specific moment in time.

My day is always made when I receive snail mail from a friend or family member. Joy is taken in the materiality of it all; I delight at the comforting knowledge that this note was recently in the hands of the sender, that the perforations are a result of the pressure they exerted upon the paper in the act of writing, that their handwriting conveys the subtleties of their mood. Peppered with their trademark expressions and imbued with their tone of voice, the note gives me the impression, if only for an instant, that the sender is in the room with me. The note finds pride of place on the windowsill or desk and will later be treasured in a box under the bed (along with all the other sentimental items I hoard).

"Moving the hand to trace the strokes of each individual letter which in turn become words, sentences and sentiments inked on the paper before our eyes is refreshing."

And snail mail is not only a joy to receive, but also a joy to write. There’s something cathartic and exciting about committing your thoughts to paper without the comfort of the delete button. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat allow us to engage in constant interaction, messaging, liking, commenting, sharing – but what are we actually saying? Handwritten notes require a certain vulnerability and intimacy, shattering the meticulously curated facades adorning our screens. Moving the hand to trace the strokes of each individual letter which in turn become words, sentences and sentiments inked on the paper before our eyes is refreshing.

Maybe it’s the different temporal aspect I like too. At the moment time seems to have slowed down for many and with that, I’m appreciating a slower pace of life. The act of letter writing lends itself to this all too well. Endearingly termed ‘snail mail’ for a reason, posted notes and letters provide a stark contrast to the immediate flow of messages entering our inboxes. Author and artist Nick Bantock says, ‘Letter writing is an excellent way of slowing down this lunatic helter-skelter universe long enough to gather your thoughts’. Putting pen to paper certainly demands more reflection and thought than a throwaway ‘lol’ that I so often find myself typing.


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Mountain View

“I need to see worlds where time has more meaning” writes Ben Willis on why he can’t turn away from the television during a time when one loses the sense of the passing of time.

There’s also the actual process of posting the letter – sealing the envelope, brandishing it with a stamp and walking to the nearest postbox. The moment you post your letter through the slit in the red postbox is the moment you relinquish control. Whether your handwritten note arrives the next day or in the next few weeks is all down to the postal service. But there’s one thing that can be taken for certain: its arrival will be met with a smile.

In times like these, when face to face communication with anyone other than a member of your household or the supermarket cashier is hard to come by, the power of snail mail shouldn’t be forgotten.

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