I’m as guilty as anyone, if I write to someone, it’s usually by email and if they say they don’t have a PC, I will still drop them a note which I’ve typed and printed, so what has happened to something which until a few years ago was not only regular, but the done thing.
I guess it must be down to two main things; education and technology.
I don’t like the old “when I was young” start to a paragraph, but you’re getting it! When I was at School, great emphasis was put on your handwriting. You would usually be taught to write with upright letters and join them up. You would have to write an Essay in a quiet Classroom and the Teacher would stroll round looking over your shoulder and giving a friendly tap on the head with a ‘Get that capital A right Cannon”.
Matched with that of course was the spelling and grammar, the mistakes of the ‘wasn’t you’, weren’t I” etc. The Morecombe and Wise famous joke line with the immortal “The Book what I have writ” would probably go over a lot of youngsters heads now because they wouldn’t see what was wrong with it! Then there’s the “I’ve got” rather than “I have”, the “Can you” when it should be “would you”, the list is endless.
Every morning, it was the Assembly, Classroom, sit down and spell 20 words. If you got one wrong, you’d be asked again the following day and so it would continue until you got it right. I’m no Shakespeare mind you!
I think you have to look at meaning. To hand write a letter involves sitting down and thinking, something we seem to have less time for. If we make a mistake on the keyboard, we simply go back and correct, then we have the spell checker to sort out the wrongs (not the grammar though).
Writing a letter by hand will force you to avoid mistakes, you’ll look a word up in the dusty Dictionary, you may even note out a structure beforehand – what do I want to say, in what order do I want to say it and will they be able to read it.
I’m lucky enough to have many letters and postcodes written by my family back to the turn of the last century. Some of them I must admit are hard to read with the modern eye, but they were constructed and above all, ‘well laid out’.
A fine example of where we’ve got to is that amongst the 30 or so Christmas Cards I got this year, about half of them had a sticker with my address on it. These are obviously done on a spreadsheet on the PC, so be it, but it is an example of everything having to be the least amount of work as possible. Also I guess, it does help the Post Office to read them better.
One should also include the ‘personal effect’. Isn’t it nice to see a part of that someone in a letter and not just a result of typing something out. Handwriting can show you a persons character, you can see it’s a busy person, see it’s a romantic person and see what they think of you. Handwriting does not cover up anything, it brings the person and their mood to you.
Another thing which impressed me about the letter I received this morning was there were no mistakes, no crossings out and although written with a fountain pen, no smudges.
Writing this article, I reckon I have had to go back on the keyboard at least a dozen times and I’ve had to spell check two words. If it were hand written, I wouldn’t get that opportunity.
Emails, Facebook, Twitter and other such forms of communication are changing our lives and in most cases there is no need to send someone a letter through the Post. The Postal Service has now become a messenger of Advertisements, Bills and confirmations and even most of these can be done online anyway.
I often wish I had a time machine. I could go back to the days of letter writing as you see on a BBC Classical Drama where the young lady is seen finishing off a letter and neatly folding it for the envelope and forward 100 years to see what things will be like then. Technology is probably giving us a few hints of things to come even now and I have no doubt that my Great Grandchildren will be able to sit in front of thei TV, dictate a letter to someone who will get a flash on the screen saying there’s a message for them.
There again, I doubt if it will even be text, it’ll just be your face saying it. With Skype and Messenger we’re not far from that now.
I’ll say it again and again, I seem to have been born in an age where there is faster change than ever before, it could only be the days of the Industrial Revolution which has seen so much in a lifetime.
How many of us learnt to type and how many of us now type faster than we can write. The writing now is faster than our brain!
It’s interesting and I’m thankful for it, but I do reflect on many things of old which are soon to be exactly that.
To find out more of what it was like ‘way back when’, go to Growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Top photo is my Great Grandfather Fowler and on the left, a letter written by my Great Uncle Gus around the turn of the century.