03 Apr About writing letters
Advantages of long-distance, non-instant written communication (by letter).
[Original post in Spanish published here]
There are some characteristics of written, non-immediate communication (by mail) that I consider advantages. Next, I will highlight some of them.
Firstly, as an anecdotal fact, consider that written communication (by mail) has been the main, and practically the only, way of distant communication throughout long distances for most of our history as human beings. Moreover, some of the greatest thinkers have left us, as an essential sample of their thoughts, their epistolary texts with contemporary thinkers. In those letters, we can approach their thoughts and ideas, since writing offers the invaluable mechanism to transform a thought into something lasting and stable through time.
From a more affectionate and relational perspective, I want to highlight the true interest shown on someone when a letter is written to them. Just the act of sitting down and write implies a prioritization of the interpersonal relationship upon multiple other possibilities. In essence, a fair amount of personal and individual time is dedicated to the other person, as well as your almost full attention.
As a proof, I am writing this text thinking about you right now. It feels as if I had you in front of me as if we were talking. I am dedicating my time and my attention entirely to you. Obviously, my phone and my computer are shut down. [The original letter is hand-written, and it has suffered a process of digitalization and correction.] The reason to be hand-writing is to achieve a representation as pure and reliable as possible of my thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, to allow the flow of ideas and emotions subjected to minimal hindrance or modifications. This detail about handwriting seems essential to me in a true long-distance communication.
We all change. I change. Nowadays, I type much more, and I sent most of my letters by email. I can elaborate on those aspects in a future post.]
Secondly, I want to emphasize the freedom that writing gives both the writer/transmitter and the receiver. In the case of the transmitter, it has the freedom of taking as much time as needed to think, ponder, manifest and revise the content and format of the message. Thanks to this reviewed writing, the likability that the receiver (the other person) is going to read the actual message that was intended to be transmitted augments, decreasing the chances of the receiver decoding the message incorrectly. Therefore, the writer or transmitter needs to dedicate time to use the language appropriately, choosing correctly, with care and moderation the words and sentences in which the message is going to be shared. I presume that, in this way, a fair amount of misunderstandings are avoided. Misunderstandings that occur easily in both oral and instant-messaging communication. I wouldn’t like to be interpreted as contrary towards oral communication or instant messaging; since both of them are going to be discussed in future texts with calm, details, and nuances.
In connection with my previous thoughts, it would be easy to use, as a counterargument, the slowness of handwriting, as compared to other communication channels. Surprisingly, using the hand-written communication channel in long-distance relationships can actually save time, given the fact that it helps to avoid errors or mistakes that tend to appear in oral communication and instant messaging. The transmitter has the possibility of reading the message as many times without needing to involve the receiver. Due to the lack of an expected and immediate feedback, the transmitter also saves time, since it doesn’t need a passive awaiting of an answer, but could dedicate this time to much more productive activities, such as sleeping.
Another advantage, directly related to this idea of freedom that writing gives, is the independence that both the transmitter and the receiver enjoy when their communication is based on hand-written letters. Let’s use a reliable example: the moment when I’m writing this letter it’s a bright day and I am in Leuven. But when you read it, it won’t be necessary for you to be in Leuven or to be during the day. In fact, this freedom is so wide, that you could read this letter when and wherever you wanted to. When and wherever it suits you because it is already written. You don’t even have to answer it afterward, you don’t even need the transmitter to be alive to receive and decode the message. Besides, you could always recall this information whenever you needed it because it is already written. In addition to what has been previously mentioned, it is worth mentioning the incorruptibility of the message. In our particular case, with different time zones and locations that separate us, I find especially useful a hand-written communication channel. Personally, I believe that this particular characteristic of hand-written communication, the possibility of escaping the limits of time and space, places it in a privileged position when it comes to transmitting thoughts and ideas. The instantaneity of the communication, either oral or by instant messaging (WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype…) doesn’t grant any freedom neither to the transmitter, nor to the receiver: neither time to reflect upon their message, nor to use their spare time in different activities, since they are both waiting for an instant feedback from the other side.
For these reasons, non-instant communication is the most suitable when the content of the message is prioritized over the feedback of the receiver (which is very egoistic). In other words, Instant messaging prevails when the consequences and the utility of the message gain importance over the value of the content. The new technologies have made us come to believe that speed is more important than the message itself. They’ve confused us by making us rush, driving us to an incomprehensible superficiality in personal relationships. The new technologies of immediacy, that claim to save time are, in my opinion, those actually stealing it. In future texts, I ’ll inquire deeply into this statement, sustained by different subordinate sentences.
As a closure to my argumentation, I’ll expose a possible counterargument for the loss of spontaneity in interpersonal communication, or worse, the loss of spontaneity in the relationship between the transmitter and the receiver. I consider that this affirmation needs to be explained: I believe in written communication as a refinement and not as a loss of spontaneity. I do consider myself an active, vivacious and energetic person that treasures to a large extent the spontaneity of life. Written language could continue expressing a fair amount of this “spontaneity of life” despite the reflection and refinement attached to it. It is possible to deal with a minimal loss of this spontaneity at the expense of improving the expression and exposition of ideas. This is a price I am willing to pay. This way, we could concentrate this spontaneity in face-to-face relationships, which I consider fundamental for human beings’ emotional well-being. But this kind of spontaneity that technologies are defending seems to be a cheap imitation of actual communication, that doesn’t involve actual face-to-face spontaneity, neither reflection nor the refinement of expression that proper writing achieves.
All things considered, I defend non-instant, long distance written communication (by letter or mail) is the most accurate communication channel to keep positive interpersonal relationships at a long distance. With letters, a true bonding and interest towards the other person are shown, alongside with a search to deeply engage in the relationship; while using the new technologies from the immediacy era what is actually pursued is utilitarianism and superficiality in personal relationships, including also the telephone or video conferences. I believe that a connection made through shared written thoughts is more real, deeper and true than one created with on different colored pixels forming some image similar to a face on a screen and a robotic voice coming out of the speaker. Referring to sensations, I would rather look at a photograph (if printed, better) of me and a friend in some lost place in the world and then try to listen to his or her voice in my head while I read his words. Also, why the rush? What for? If you really care about keeping the relationship alive you ought to give some of your time exclusively to that person, stop and think of him or her and write them. This should be a clear proof of devotion and interest for the reader, and not any ‘How’s going?’ sent by Whats app.