A recent interview I saw that the Associated Press conducted with former president Jimmy Carter got me to thinking: Just what is the benefit of a handwritten letter sent through the mail versus an electronic communication such as an email or text message?
Certainly letters carry an aura of privacy, especially when we hear of the surveillance capabilities of the NSA to gather electronic information. Former president Carter revealed that he communicates by writing letters. He either types them or he pens them in longhand. He explained that he puts the letters he writes in envelopes, puts stamps on them and mails them himself. Why? Because he feels that “my telephone calls and my email are being monitored, and there are some things I just don't want anybody to know." Clearly, he sees a privacy advantage to sending a letter in the mail.
Is a letter really and truly private? Certainly it is more private than an email or text message that the NSA can capture electronically. Even so, a letter can be copied or read by others.
One of the real benefits of a handwritten letter is the personal touch it conveys, which comes from the effort to handwrite or type the message. That message on paper says to the recipient, “You are important to me” in a way that an email does not. When that message arrives in the mail, it stands out from all the other bills and junk mail that are also delivered. Once opened and read, it remains as a visible reminder of the sender for hours, days, or even weeks. Rarely, is it crumpled into a ball and tossed. Yet, in effect, that is exactly what happens to an electronic message. Once read, if it is read at all, it is closed and deleted or superseded by all the other messages that come in after it. It is tossed.
In this day and age, while the privacy a mailed letter may enjoy is increasingly important, the personal touch of a handwritten letter, especially when so much is sent electronically, is what makes it a really valuable way to communicate.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."