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Writing personal letters: Do we miss it?

Jannatul Ferdous Anan | Wednesday, 30 December 2020


In almost all countries, it takes 2-8 working days for a letter to arrive at the destination via the postal service. But people have no patience, or time in other words, to wait for that much time especially as they have comfortable access to the internet and can send an email or text message  within seconds.

However, this whole process is a straightforward personal act, of course via digital technology, than an elegant service depending on a large number of people involved and time required.

People living in towns and villages in Bangladesh waited for the postmen to receive their expected letters and know how their near and dear ones were the moment they were written.

Lutfa Jan Lutfa, a 62-year-old housewife now living in Dhaka city, recalled the days when she had to depend on letters as the only source of communication. She used to send handwritten letters to her sister who lived abroad. It used to take a whole month to send the letters and another to receive them.

“Now I can even talk to her about the daily chores like what she made for dinner or what she did the whole day. It feels like a blessing," she says. From the mundane information to the latest gossip, everything can be shared instantly between the two sisters, living far away from each other physically.

Still, handwritten letters have always carried a hint of sophistication and cordiality and have the power to develop a sort of warmth like a long-distance hug.

"Meaning rises from giving parts of yourself away to others through letter writing, without any expectation of getting those parts back," noted Hannah Brencher, TED speaker and author of the bestselling book “If You Find This Letter”.

The waiting for the arrival of a letter and the excitement of opening an envelope is equivalent to that of receiving your long-awaited pre-ordered merchandise. All the built-up emotions and enthusiasm surrounding this prospect is charming as 1990s’ romantic dramas.

Meherin Sultana Toha, a 16-year-old High School student of Viqarunnisa Noon School, said she wrote her first handwritten letter in middle school to a friend explaining her first impression of that friend and how she wanted the friendship between them to remain the same. She can still recall her excitement and over-pouring emotions like the smell of rain-soaked air. Nonetheless, she likes to text now for obvious reasons but the experience of writing that letter brings back a whole set of flashbacks for her.

Tafannum Reaz Tofa, a 23-year-old student of the English Department studying at Jahangirnagar University, reminisced how she wrote to her father as a 6-year-old. Her father was stationed in Dhaka for work while she resided with her family in Thakurgaon. “I don't remember much as I was only a kid. I only remember telling him about the games I played with my friends which was the most important aspect of my life back then. I do remember reading the letters word by word with excitement and anticipation," she recalled.

Nowadays, letters are mostly used for official works.

The habit of writing a letter takes too much time, energy, and efforts, according to the taste of the current society. Smallbiztrends, an award-winning hub dedicated to providing pragmatic content for small businesses, stated that 64 per cent of people would not spend their own time and energy to write a letter.

However, another research published on a website called smallbizgenius whose sole purpose is to provide accurate information for small businesses, has depicted that almost 98 per cent of handwritten envelopes get unwrapped. On the other hand, only 22.7 per cent of email is checked.

Therefore, even though the habit is almost close to extinction, the feeling about handwritten letters is still intact. From Persuasion by Jane Austen to The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks, the use of handwritten letters has always made a special place in the hearts of the readers and audiences.

In a way, the convenience of the digitisation of communication has deprived us of these wonderful sentiments. Everyone now wants everything done quickly like instant noodles. If texting was accessible for Romeo and Juliet then, maybe the ending wouldn't have been tragic! The one-minute gap between receiving texts, the change of tone based on the use of emojis -- the whole idea of texting is way too impulsive and instantaneous. The best features of digitised communication deprives us of the best features of letters.

There are well-known letters in history, not any renowned emails; but they have become the go-to place for any official or unofficial work. Emails have become a substitute for letters if not entirely. Since emails require brevity, people tend to state only the necessary things like ordering takeouts. But to achieve brevity one has to abandon levity and needs to sound competent in the briefest way possible. There are plenty of tutorials available on Facebook and YouTube with the correct methods for writing them. Therefore, if one knows how to use their resources properly, writing an email is not that big of a deal.

Texting is considered ubiquitous for communicating these days as it has become an everyday thing like waking up or brushing your teeth. Almost everyone more or less knows the basic etiquette of using the perfect words or emojis to express how they feel. Mistakes due to typo, autocorrect, improper placement of punctuation, or sending the screenshot of a person's message to that same person do occur which are no big deal.

The closest thing to the emotions of the letter are the so-called 3am texts minus the elegance. They both bring out the parts that are hidden in everyday chaos. Life nowadays behaves like a ruthless winter without any warmth of hot cocoa or blanket. One has to move from one place to another to another and another; and in today's world, that's Instagram to Facebook to messenger to Whatsapp to get a hold of that warmth. The relevance of the memes brings out exhilaration.

The warmth and effort which were provided for one another in the past through letters are bygone.

Jannatul Ferdous Anan is a current student at the department of English at Jahangirnagar University.

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