“Our correspondences show us where our intimacies lie,” writes Terry Tempest Williams. “There is something very sensual about a letter. The physical contact of pen to paper, the time set aside to focus thoughts, the folding of the paper into the envelope, licking it closed, addressing it, a chosen stamp, and then the release of the letter to the mailbox — all are acts of tenderness.
“And it doesn’t stop there. Our correspondences have wings — paper birds that fly from my house to yours — flocks of ideas crisscrossing the country. Once opened, a connection is made. We are not alone in the world.”
I write blog posts now, and compose e-mails on my laptop. I can hardly remember the last letter I mailed. I do still receive letters often, but they are soulless things, offering me 5.9% interest. Pre-approved.
Williams wrote her words in 1991, a millennium past. What would she think of the changes wrought by the information superhighway? Would she appreciate the strange new phsyicality of writing e-mail, the soft touch of springy keys under one’s fingertips? Or would she mourn the lost folding and licking and releasing? Would she celebrate the new conversations so readily available online? Or would she note with a shudder the ease of forming facile and artificial online friendships, devoid of real depth or connection?
Williams ultimately celebrates not letters themselves, but the potential for human connection that letters foster and nourish. How much of that connection remains, in today’s unlettered generation?