icubud (icubud) wrote,
icubud
icubud

Mourning the loss of the written word

In these days of email, texts and instant messaging, I am not alone, I feel sure, in mourning the demise of the old-fashioned handwritten letter. Exchanges of letters capture nuances of shared thought and feeling to which their electronic replacements simply cannot do justice.

The most dramatic feature of electronic communication is surely its propensity to tempt us into dashing off a message in haste that we repent at leisure. As the emails ping into our inbox we answer them helter-skelter, breathlessly, without pausing to reflect on nuance or tone. As a consequence, misunderstandings often arise - "I'm sorry to have upset you," a colleague will reply to an email I intended as a matter-of-fact response to a bit of university business.

No doubt I am sentimentalising the orderliness of written letters by comparison with emails. When feelings run high, an ill-judged letter can cause as much emotional damage as any dashed-off online posting. Here's another example from Virginia Woolf's prolific correspondence.

Virginia Woolf called letter-writing "the humane art, which owes its origins to the love of friends", and devoted a good deal of emotional energy to using it to maintain her friendships.

Today's electronic forms of communication may lack that emotional depth but they do enable us to connect more speedily and efficiently than I at least could manage with pen and ink. Still, when we take advantage of them, we ought always to heed Woolf's warning, never to write carelessly. And, if we can, at least count to 10, and read over what we have written, before we press "send".

The full BBC story is here and it includes a couple stories about Virginia Woolf.

Tags: words
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