An opinion piece on the value of snail mail letters. Wodehouse Challenge, Sept 2014.
We live in a world where the speed of communication is always accelerating. There was a time when we had to wait for a letter to be delivered through the mail, or when phone calls could only be made on landlines found at our homes and businesses. Since then, we've developed ways to send electronic mail, conduct phone calls from the most remote locations, and send "instant" messages to one another. With so many varied and expedient ways of reaching one another, it's become common to expect near-immediate responses. I'm sure many of us can relate to the experience of getting out of a movie or a meeting or forgetting their phone at home, only to check it a few hours later and find half a dozen calls, emails, or texts of increasing urgency. "Where are you?" "Why aren't you calling me back?"
Where does all this immediacy leave the slower methods of communication? Is there a place in our fast-paced modern society for traditional mail (also called "snail mail"), form of communication that takes, at minimum, one or two days to arrive and another one or two days to return? Should people take the time to hand-write a letter when they can type up the same thing at fifty words-per-minute and edit without scrapping an entire sheet of paper?
If you consider correspondence purely from the point of efficiency and the speed with which it can be delivered, there doesn't seem to be much of a case to keep snail mail around when instant communication is so much more convenient. Then again, having something delivered quickly isn't always the only factor a sender considers.
Sometimes, correspondence is sent for the purpose of being personal. After all, we still buy greeting cards and write personal messages to include with gifts rather than typing up a quick few sentences and printing them out on a white sheet of paper. Similarly, many recruiters and job-hunting experts will tell you that a handwritten "thank you" note after an interview will stand out from the majority who send a quick and impersonal email. There are clearly times when personal, handwritten correspondence is the preferred method of communication.
And let's consider the recipient for a moment. Surely there are times when someone on the receiving end of correspondence wants more than just a quick email, text message, or 140-character tweet when they hear from you? In fact, in a world that relies nearly entirely on immediate communication and reserves snail mail for bills and the ubiquitous Pennysaver and other bulk mail advertisements, doesn't it feel good to receive a card or a letter in the mail? The following comic is the most accurate way I can find to depict the way we think of snail mail letters (real letters, not advertisements) these days:
It feels good to receive a handwritten letter through the mail. It tells us that someone took the time and effort to write us a personal message when they could have easily sent a piece of impersonal electronic correspondence that only took them a few minutes to compose before clicking "send."
It's important to note, though, that snail mail alone isn't what makes a letter personal; it's the added effort of handwriting it. On its own, I think snail mail has less relevance and less value than when it's combined with an extra personal step like writing them out by hand. Snail mail is an outdated mode of communication, so if the purpose of sending something is in any way tied to efficiency, it has become nearly irrelevant. But it's important to remember that there are other reasons why people send correspondence, and snail mail still has significant value for those times when you want to send something personal and show that you've taken more than a few quick minutes to compose something and send it off.
As long as snail mail is around, it's a mode of communication that we should take advantage of. Most of us use it to send greeting cards or mail bills, but imagine if we each decided to take the time to write a personal, handwritten letter and mail it the old-fashioned way once a week. That means once a week (albeit a couple days later), you could make someone's day by showing them that you care enough to write them and invest more time and effort (and money, with the cost of stamps these days!) than it takes to send an email or an e-card.
Snail mail is still a valuable way to correspond with others, especially since snail mail correspondence has become so scarce. The real question is, though, are you using snail mail to its greatest effect, or are you just checking the mailbox everyday and separating the bills from the advertisements? If you want it to be more than that, consider handwriting some letters of your own and sending them out. You never know when you might get something back.
Written for "a very Wodehouse challenge" (WdC Birthday Week 2014).
PROMPT: Write an opinion piece (minimum 750 words) persuading the reader that snail mail letters should continue to be written and sent, or persuading the reader that they are archaic and irrelevant in the modern world - your choice.