Writing in a Digital Age
2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, a testament to the historical importance and staying power of the written word. After decades of tapping the keys writing is back in fashion, so much so that next month the 29th April has been designated the first World Stationary Day. The aim is to get people around the world talking about stationery and highlight the importance of writing by hand. But why is it still so important, is writing by hand really that different to its digital offspring?
Writing is not a natural reflex but an art which humanity has been developing for centuries. It is a craft composed of the loops and sweeps of ink, the curling of commas, long, horizontal crossings and tails that fall below the line. From monks in sacred scriptoriums to school children working in copy books, their tongues poking out in concentration, writing has been a labour of love and learning for centuries. We have come a long way since most people could only sign their name with an X, but with the invention of the typewriter, the computer and the internet, the art of handwriting has been in decline, the letter an antiquated relic of an analogue age. Writing is no longer deemed a necessity to some. Should we not be looking to the qualities it holds for personal, romantic and artistic expression that are missing in the digital age? Here are some of the reasons why I think we should continue the art of penning a postcard, letter or note.
There is nothing more beautiful than receiving a love letter. The second world war was aflame with passions being sent through the post. Bound with ribbons and kept until death, love letters are read over and over, even after the sender has long since perished. Stories live beyond the grave and the history of famous lovers is documented in archives and anthologies. Through letters people found a medium to open up and express their feelings, emotions that would often be hidden in their otherwise mundane lives. Writing in our own hand exposes our vulnerability, our imperfections. We do not write in perfect fonts and straight lines, there is nothing to check our spelling or polish an untidy hand, there are no back spaces and so our passion must pour freely. Love letters bridged the gap of distance and longing before phone calls were instant and emails could seek you out wherever you were in the world. Lovers had to wait, increasing the excitement felt upon their arrival, the joy of receiving post written in their lover's individual script.
P.S To recognise the work of a loved one's hand is a sign of intimacy.
“And none will hear the postman’s knock without a quickening of the heart. For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” – W.H. Auden
Make yourself heard
How many times a day do you hear yourself saying 'have you received my email?' Digital communication is so transient and impersonal that it has almost become de rigueur to ignore or put aside emails until a later date. We may choose a font, attach a picture or press a 'like' button, but we do it with such ease and little care that we are gradually becoming like the peasant signing their name with an X. The quickening of the heart when the postman knocks now relates to the fear of overdue bills, summons and demands. Impersonal bank letters, their windows revealing nothing but the details of your location in a conservative font. When a personal letter is delivered all other post drops to the floor as you try to recognise the author by the handwriting, stamp or postmark. By sending handwritten post you have immediately created intrigue, immediately you have sent something special be it a postcard, greetings card or letter. You have their attention in a world where everyone is communicating too much and all at once.
“I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little ink drops, And posting it.” – Amy Lowell “The Letter”
Appeal to senses
Although digital communication is visually and audibly rich and complex, it cannot compete with the tactile nature of a piece of post. The smooth or rough texture of an envelope, the physical tearing of the gum from the paper and the unfolding or opening of the post inside. You can bury your nose inside and smell the fresh card, the perfumed note or the musty paper. Email attachments can also be replaced with intimate inclusions, locks of hair, a physical photo, a crisp bank note or a pressed flower. Nothing beats a surprise gift cascading from a letter or card. In the same way an e - book reader can never replace the sensual experience of turning the pages of a book, there is nothing quite like the touch of a freshly delivered letter in the post.
“How to Write Letters: A Manual of correspondence showing the correct structure, composition, punctuation, formalities and uses of the various kinds of letters, notes and cards” – J Willis Westlake 1876.
A great excuse for creativity and frivolous stationery
Despite a decline in handwriting, stationary is still incredibly popular. National Stationary week (April 27-May 3rd) is in its third year and the choice of pens, notebooks and writing accessories has never been greater. Organisers claim 'you can never have too much stationary!' Writing does not simply need to be limited to plain sheets of uninspiring paper or a sheet torn from a foolscap pad. People will know if you have chosen and sent their letter on your special paper. A well chosen card is also appreciated, but by adding a special message in an unusual ink and coloured envelope, the card becomes a gift in itself. Fountain pens, quirky envelopes, coloured inks, wax seals and stickers can all contribute to the re emergence of writing as a creative practice and hobby.
Many letters of the past were expressions of their authors personality, mini creative projects. They often contained private jokes in the form of humorous cartoons, illustrations created only for the eye of the recipient. Creativity is an expression of our individuality and although strict etiquette has existed in letter writing, breaking these rules is fun and reveals the personality of the writer. Frida Kahlo wrote notes to her husband Diego Rivera on the back of hospital envelopes sealed with the print of her painted red lips.
“I find the Latin alphabet to be one of mankind's most beautiful and profound creations”. – Seb Lester
Because typing and writing are not the same
Typing and writing are not the same. The physical act of writing stimulates different parts of the brain, areas that encourage memory and the generation of ideas. Not only is it a pleasure to read, the work of a talented calligrapher is pure elegance and a joy to watch.
An interest in calligraphy, typography and handwriting are all on the increase and companies like Meticulous Ink Fine stationary in Bath run courses in developing your own style of hand lettering. Handwriting it is an expression of who we are, warts and all and a clear message that we are taking the time to communicate with clear intention and thought. It is an art that must be practiced, played with and in all honesty it's far more glamorous than poking one's finger at a digital screen.