Imagine a world without Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s correspondences; better yet, imagine them existing as we write to one another today. To Robert, Elizabeth wrote:
Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve–not you–but my own fate? Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do? And you love me more, you say? Shall I thank you or God? Both, indeed, and there is no possible return from me to either of you! I thank you as the unworthy may…and as we all thank God. How shall I ever prove what my heart is to you? How will you ever see it as I feel it?…
Today this might sound something like: “OMG, ILYSM. We’re like, totally made 4 each other. <3 <3 :] :] :]!!”
With that being said, let me begin by saying that I am a product of my generation—to an extent. It’s difficult for me to comfortably formulate any kind of substantial writing with paper and a pen. All of my writing begins and ends on a computer unless I’m free writing or drafting notes. Although I love the convenience of being able to write more quickly with my computer keyboard, there’s something quite different—something timeless and so aesthetically marvelous—about my words chinking out from behind my typewriter, and especially the acts of writing or receiving a handwritten letter.
Being caught up with the technology of the times, I’m not entirely sure when the art of letter writing dwindled. It’s like one day I looked up and everything was digital, and Facebook messenger, e-mail, and texting took the place of letters and hell, even phone calls. Of course, not everyone sees the importance or even the aesthetic quality of a handwritten letter—there are even some public schools in the United States opting to remove the teaching of cursive writing from their classrooms. Not only are we arguably—and quite bluntly—dumbing down our future generations, but we are slowly eliminating an art form.
Communication for Millennials has become so wholly impersonal and sadly dispassionate. Everything has been reduced to acronyms, emojis, and “likes”—and I can’t even begin to write about how many ridiculous arguments I’ve had with my boyfriend over Facebook, simply because I forgot to sign off with a smiley-face-heart-exclamation point, so obviously I must be upset. It’s because of this—in part—that he and I write letters to one another quite often. We see each other regularly and we don’t live far apart, but there is something exciting about receiving a letter, either in the mail or just seeing a pretty envelope propped on your pillow next to a teddy bear and a rose. There’s an intense romantic quality in letter writing that e-mails and all of the emojis on the Internet just can’t recreate.
Anton Chekhov once wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” As a student of English, the phrase “show, don’t tell” has come up quite often over the years—and what a brilliant piece of advice for writers—but I believe the opposite is true for our digitized selves. Don’t show me how much you love me with fourteen big pink Facebook hearts, tell me in words—in writing—how I am the “#1 earthly reason for [your] existence.” Give me something tangible that I can pick up and read again and again—something that took time to produce. Write to me the way Elizabeth and Robert did—with conviction and passion—write it so that I may look at your handwriting and feel like you’ve gifted me a tiny piece of your world.