In praise of the hand-written letter

The letter was powerful enough to make me revisit my own position on the topic the writer addressed.

A letter I received here at the paper the other day was a throwback to an earlier era.

It was neatly hand-written, sealed in an envelope and dropped off at our office.

Most of the letters to the editor are sent to me by email or through the submission link on our website at

I don’t care about the format of the letters I receive. Letters sent on paper or submitted electronically are fine as long as I am able to read them and as long as the letter is something I am able to print.

Most letter writers — not all, unfortunately — do a good job of focussing on the topic, keeping reasonably close to our word limits and steering clear of personal attacks.

What impressed me most however, was that this particular letter showed a lot of thought.

The writer cared enough to craft the comments. The message was clear, understandable and respectful.

As I read it and then reread it, I realized it was not a few random thoughts, dashed off in a matter of minutes.

The author of the hand-written letter had time to think about every word and every sentence in the message, and the effort showed through. I don’t think there were any spelling or grammatical mistakes in the entire document.

The letter was powerful enough to make me revisit my own position on the topic the writer addressed.

Writing by hand is a slow process, at least compared to typing. It’s becoming a lost art. It takes more time than many of us think we have.

Most of us spend time in front of computer keyboards or with a smart phone in hand.

Communicating using such technology is a fast process — much faster than composing a hand-written letter.

In a matter of seconds, with a few keystrokes, one’s thoughts can be posted, exposed for the entire world to read.

And therein lies a huge problem.

When it’s this easy to comment, it’s easy to say something without first thinking about it. It’s easy to let emotion override reason, and it’s easy to say something inappropriate or unkind.

It’s best to go through a cooling-off period, a proofreading or an evaluation process, before hitting the Send button.

Last week, there was the story of an American university student who came under fire for an extremely insensitive tweet following the shooting death of a police officer.

After the notoriety about her tweet, the student was arrested on an unrelated charge.

She probably regrets her hasty words right now.

This student is not the first person to get into trouble over something she posted online, nor will she be the last.

A quick news search for “offensive tweets” will yield items about elected officials, political candidates, celebrities, journalists and more. These are people who should know better.

And there are stories of people who have lost their jobs after posting a Facebook status or another social media comment expressing racist, sexist or homophobic views, or berating their employers.

The consequences are harsh.

A social media message can be posted with hardly a second thought but the effects can last a lifetime.

While I appreciate computer technology, there are times when I’d rather sit quietly to do my writing, pen and paper in hand.

And, as I realized the other day, there’s a special pleasure in reading something which was written slowly and carefully — whether or not I agree with what I’m reading.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.