A few weeks ago while expressing my reservations about Twitter I mentioned that I encouraged my children to write handwritten notes of thanks or sympathy. One reader wrote in asking why. In her words:
What’s wrong with an email? Both take time to write isn’t one just a modern form of the other?
That got me thinking. On occasion (I wish I could say rare occasion but that wouldn’t be truthful) my children oh so delicately suggest that I often pretend that a lot of the modern world doesn’t exist. They might say this when I insist that the movie rating system has a typo and PG13 is actually PG31 or when I advocate the usage of the phrase “dearie me” when they need to articulate a particularly strong emotional response.
So, I stopped to take a second look at the issue. Do handwritten notes intrinsically have greater value than email or am I urging the equivalent of writing with a quill vs. using a ball point pen. I think I need to argue for the first view.
Email is wonderful in many ways. It is immediate, inexpensive, and easy to disseminate. Like so many things in life, its strong points are the same as its weak points. Sending an email birthday card to someone is as simple as clicking a link and I think it is fine to respond to an instant card with an instant response. But surely if someone takes the time to go to a store, purchase a card and mail it, let alone if he sends a present, he deserves a response that shows some hint of effort.
Because emails can be written and sent so spontaneously, they tend to be full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and potential double meaning. The whole point is to write and click, not to read over, examine and analyze. We’ve all had the frustrating experience of needing to rewrite a handwritten letter when we see errors in it. This is exactly one of the reasons that we pay more attention when we receive snail mail. By definition, someone spent time and energy composing it.
My husband and I recently received a beautifully written card from a 21 year old friend of our daughter who had spent a few days with us over Passover. That card will be kept and re-read, not deleted. The care taken over it even led me to call the girl’s mother and share it, so that she could take pride in her daughter’s good manners. My son recently visited a friend’s home where the mother showed him how she had framed a thank you he had written her after she had offered him hospitality years ago. Would email notes evoke the same response? I don’t think so.
I love email. But when something meaningful needs to be said, email seems to be the equivalent of serving a microwave meal rather than a home cooked dinner. It may fill the basic requirements, but it doesn’t quite do the job.