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Saturday, July 04, 2015

Re-Inventing a Personal Touch

How long has it been since your actually wrote someone in long hand or for that matter received such a letter yourself?  I'm talking about a letter that traveled over some miles to be hand delivered to your address, not pushed through the Internet and popped out into your email inbox.  In other words, snail mail.

This week I read a Forbes article by Maggy Zhang titled From Robots and Emails To Handwritten Letters: Using Tech To Reverse Tech and was intrigued by an art project called Snail Mail My Email. As I have mentioned in one or more blog posts at some point in the past, I believe the demise if the written letter is in fact a negative consequence of modern technology.

To me, hand written letters are an art form. Hell, many youngsters are growing up without any handwriting skill at all. Our communications have progressed to less personal.  They have gone from fast written e-mail letters that arrive in an inbox with standardized fonts to the text message - again instantaneous transmission of 140 characters or less. I'm not saying these things have not had positive values, but they have certainly come as a price as they have all but bastardized written communication.

As I look at my  library of books of poetry poetics, biographies and other collected works on literature, I have a number of books that are archived letters from writers.  Right off the top of my head, I know that I have Letters Home - a compendium letters from Sylvia Plath, written mostly to her mother, Letters of Ted Hughes, The Letters of Allen Ginsberg, and Robert A. Heinlein: Grumbles From The Grave. In addition to these I've read volumes of letters from a number of other poets including Lowell and Sexton. It has always fascinated me the letter exchanges that  have occurred between poets of their time often on their craft but sometimes interesting snapshots of their lives as a whole. These books can provide a picture into the evolution of these poets and poetesses. We can begin to understand the path that has taken them to what they ultimately became. I feel like when I read one I am on an anthropological expedition.  I wonder what we as poets today are losing as a result of this decline interpersonal letter writing.

The Forbes article talks about two different off-shoots of societal divestment of personal writing. One is a company founded not long ago that offers the robotic ability to imitate a customers' signature so that handwritten notes can be generated at a fast speed. Bond is a for profit enterprise and  it's services would be more geared to mass customer correspondence.  The other off-shoot, the one I find most interesting is called Snail Mail My Email.  This was a projected started in 2011 by a gentleman in the advertising business who quit his job. He was tired of the massive amount of impersonal email that landed in his inbox daily. It started that he decided personally he would write more handwritten letters and then came his decision to help others do the same. Snail My Email  has become a volunteer organization of over 700 people who have collectively  written and sent over 23,500 letters around the world. In a nut shell, these people take emails, convert them to personally written notes and mail them to the intended recipient. Perfect strangers writing a letter for someone else to someone else.

I like this idea. But I'm pretty keen on letters.
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