When the message is personal, there’s only one medium I trust to carry it. I send it in the mail. Like, with stamps. For real.
I’m a guy who likes to keep in touch. Emails? I send ‘em. Text messages? I reply. I Gchat like a fiend, Snapchat like a freak, and spend more time on Twitter than I do on my feet. I believe so deeply in the creative power of human communication, in fact, that I’ve rolled the dice with a career as a writer in a media landscape constantly scrabbling for new ways to interact. I’m all-in on interaction, and the internet is one of my favorite things periodfullstop. I tell you that to tell you this: when the message is personal, there’s only one medium I trust to carry it. I send it in the mail.
Like, with stamps. For real.
Though it would make me a fairly normal 65 year-old, at 26, my proclivity for sending mail puts me solidly in the minority amongst my peers. I understand the 20-something aversion to epistolarianism, I do. Mailing a card or letter is a colossal pain. You gotta find stamps, envelopes, and a pen. Do you have the address handy? Probably not, and you’re gonna need that, too. Of course, once you find all your supplies, you’ve gotta actually write the damn thing: sitting down, on a flat surface, with no Delete button or spellcheck to save you from yourself. There will be no archive of your message once you send it, and, oh-by-the-way — your card won’t arrive to its recipient for some indeterminate amount of time, so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to get timely information there on time.
The mail is a less effective way to communicate than any of the bevy of broadband options available at a few keystrokes or screen swipes. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.
But I don’t send mail for efficiency, or posterity, or out of some misguided effort to “save” the warmth of language from the hackneyed austerity of the internet. (More on that later.) I send mail because it’s the very finest way to deliver yourself – not just your intellectual insight, but your entire cognitive character – to a place you cannot be. Letters, the lifeblood of 19th-century communication, remain the most human mode of interaction we have at our disposal. When you think about it that way, they’re a steal at only $0.48 apiece.
In other words, mail is meaningful. This is a tired cliché, but it’s tired because it’s largely true. Sending a letter is an incredibly intimate act because of the inherent obstacles it presents. In this odd, near-obsolete gesture lie all the tenets of a capital-R Romanticism: personal sacrifice, eccentricity, and willful uncertainty. Texting is a seamless part of everyday life, but to write a letter demonstrates, by its very existence, that the writer holds his recipient in high enough regard to take time out of everyday life for them. That’s not mere communication. It’s genuine personal connection, and god damn, do I love it.
But enough lofty socio-semantic babble. Just because you put a stamp on something doesn’t automatically brand it as a vessel of sincerity. A piece of mail is not a one-trick pony braying gravitas; mail can be funny, man. For one thing, it’s completely unexpected in 2015, and your recipient’s bemused surprise is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from a full-fledged giggle if you play your card right. (That was a heinous pun, and I do not apologize for it.)
For another, it’s completely unburdened by the obligation of immediate response. You know that feeling you get when you send a coworker a link to a hilarious YouTube video, only to receive silence in return? That’s the dissatisfaction of an unclosed loop right there. It sucks. Punchy emails and crazy. GIFs are a delight, sure, but they’re transactional. Watch this. Laugh. Send this. Respond. Because it’s so ludicrously slow by today’s standards, silly ol’ mail subverts the codependence of “witty banter” in favor of standalone fun. It enables you to be a little weird & unhinged. After all, you’re writing it alone. No one is waiting for you to hit the return key. When you pick up a pen and put it to paper, the moment is pregnant with the long-ball potential for a chuckle down the road. That’s the good stuff, you guys.
The mail’s most enduring reward, though, lives neither in its heartwarming sincerity nor its ability to garner an offbeat guffaw. No, the most satisfying thing about writing a letter comes from the introspection it inherently requires of the author. It doesn’t just imbue clarity – it demands it. Most 21st-century communication vessels are dialogue, or close to it; individual pieces of mail are rigorously isolated monologues by comparison. There are no links, references, or puppy pictures here. Your mind’s inner workings are your only fodder; articulation, the only tool in your belt. To write a letter is to engage meaningfully with yourself before you ever drop it in the mail.
Can the earnestness of writing a letter save us from the corrosive specter of hyper-connectivity? I often hear this promise bandied about. It’s the second half of the mail-is-meaningful cliché, and it’s the part I reject. We don’t need to be “saved.” The Internet is a magnificent conduit for conversations that are otherwise impossible to conduct. We just need a reminder, every once in a while, that our relationships can exist beyond the screens we spend so much time in front of. For me, the mail is that reminder. And it’s a pleasure.