Recently, while procrastinating my life away by perusing the endless abyss that is Tumblr’s repository of adorable puppy vines, I came across a letter Johnny Cash wrote to his wife, June, in the summer of ’94. What’s that? A handwritten letter? He wrote it with his own hand? He used a pen? He put down his premeditated thoughts onto a sheet of paper? An antiquated mode of communication, a wilting form of art!
The concept of a handwritten letter is a strange one to our generation. We’ve been spoiled and spoiled and spoiled by instant gratification. Communication between lovers and friends has been digitized to such an extent that it boils down to nothing than some bland 1s and 0s, and 9 times out of 10, results in nothing but anger and frustration. It wasn’t always like this! We settle for the most ridiculous texts. We applaud phrases and efforts that, a mere decade or two ago, were expected — the lowest of standards. Our laziness has put an absolute end to any sort of mystery, romance, or excitement whatsoever in terms of communicating with one another and it has to end.
Let’s talk about phone calls. What? Who calls people anymore? There are three people I regularly speak with on the phone, and one of them is my foreign grandmother, who barely knows how to work a flip phone’s number keys and yells into the phone when she’s speaking with me, as if the distance between us makes it hard for me to hear her asking me whether I’ve fed myself today and why I haven’t found myself a husband yet, since my 22-soon-to-be-23 year old immune system is swiftly aging into a childless black hole. And of course, the other two people I regularly speak on the phone with are my mother and my best friend. On a brighter note, I’ve realized I love phone calls!
When a guy I’m seeing — we’re adults, you know what I mean by seeing — calls me, my initial reaction is confusion. Oh god, why is he calling? Confusion quickly turns to surprise mixed with horror. What does he want, should I pick up, oh my god, it’s been ringing for 6 seconds. Finally, I tend to pick up the call with an extremely faked nonchalance and a slightly high-pitched “Hello?” But once that awful mix of emotions is over, I’m always relieved to actually have a conversation and hear the sarcasm in his voice or his sympathetic laugh to my terrible joke instead of the “lol” or “haha” we hear too often from the other end of a texting conversation. So I implore you, make more phone calls! Bring back some real conversations into your life. Even if it’s just your grandmother and even if it’s just to tell her that yes, you did indeed eat breakfast and that no, you do not need her to find you a nice, Jewish boy to marry.
Let’s talk about texting. “Hey.” When did that become an acceptable fragment to initiate conversation? What is this taboo yet annoyingly stupid pre-conversation conversation we have way too often? Hey. Hey what’s up. Not much, you? Not too much. Cool! We’ve gotten absolutely nowhere and I’ve wasted several brain cells and precious moments on this riveting exchange. We’ve allowed texting to overtake all other sorts of communication, but instead of using it for our own convenience (as it was originally intended, when back in the day, circa 2004, texts were limited in monthly volume and limited to a sad amount of characters per message sent) we’ve allowed it to penetrate our lives and decay any glimpse of intelligence we might want to convey to the world.
I’m guilty of this myself, so I am not one to point fingers, and I am quite an avid fan of emojis (i.e. “you won’t understand what I mean unless I include 17 eggplant emojis and a dolphin emoji as the last line of my text”). But I implore you, step up your texting game. Accept the reality that it is 2014, and a lot of communication is inevitably done via text, but make it interesting! Just give me a hint that you have a decent amount of brain cells left and can hold a conversation about something other than the mediocre “nothing much” going on in your life. And don’t text me anything that involves the incorrect there/their/they’re or your/you’re or atrocious abbreviations like “u r” and “l8r” (seriously? l8r? I was under the impression that died the same day AIM did). You’re an adult, so speak like one.
Finally, let’s talk about letters. Do you write letters? I doubt it. I know I haven’t written a letter to anyone since the summer of 2000, and that was addressed to my parents, since I happened to be an 8 year old at a slightly hippie-esque arts camp in New Hampshire.
I think it would be strange if society suddenly reverted to handwritten communication, but I also think we need that change. I’m not saying drop your iPhone in the toilet and vow to communicate with everyone solely via mail, but a handwritten letter here and there would be a nice change of pace. First there is the intrigue, the suspense, the mystery! You have to wait for the letter to arrive in your mailbox, if you are expecting it. If you aren’t, it surprises you amongst a pile of magazines and bills. Then there is the excitement, the joy, and the permanence! It’s a physical object. You can keep it forever (unless you hate the writer, and you burn it to destroy it) and you can look at it whenever you’d like, without worrying about whether you have a screenshot of it saved to your camera roll.
And lastly, there is the beauty of the premeditated language of the letter. As Johnny wrote to June, “You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 earthly reason for my existence.” Imagine getting that slice of poetic prose in the mail today! If that doesn’t make you slightly swoon or reconsider your latest, incredibly dry and boring exchange with your latest Tinder match, I don’t know what will.
So again, I implore you, write a letter! Even if it’s just one, and even if you’re scared to do it, and even if you think it’s lame, write that letter. I promise you, the satisfaction you will feel and the tiny bit of romantic gesture you’ll bring back into your life will impress you.
It’s like N.H. Kleinbaum said in Dead Poets’ Society: “Avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys — to woo women — and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.” Laziness with language cannot be the new norm, we cannot let technology and modern lack of face-to-face, voice-to-voice, letter-to-letter communications become the standard way we interact.