How to connect with others and find yourself along the way
Mila Yarovaya, Co-Editor-in-Chief
My dearest Kristy…
I find myself writing for the 5th time this year, placing a wax seal, gluing a stamp, and dropping the letter in a mailbox. Conventional? No. Dramatic and oddly satisfying? Absolutely. I’ve been doing this for the past half year now. What started off as a quirky addition to a birthday gift slowly grew into steady correspondence with my friend who lives on the other side of our small town.
I have always been enamoured with the art of letter writing – all those images of writing by candlelight, anxious waiting, and enraptured reading of the long awaited correspondence bring with it an alluring sense of intimacy and honesty that is often missing within the truncated communication methods of the 21st century. However, nostalgia for something that never happened to you is a poor reason to engage in a time consuming and soul-baring hobby, so the question stood : why oh why, in the age of instantaneous relation of information brought to you courtesy of Zoom, SMS, and the myriad of encrypted messaging apps that take up an inordinate amount of space on our hand-held computers, did I choose to engage in such an archaic mode of communication? The answer, I think, lies in the very utility that modern messaging systems offer us.
Without a doubt, the rise of technology, especially digital technology, is one of the most significant events in human history. And I am not in the least advocating for a luddite approach of smashing all the global servers and going back to the good old days of waiting for two weeks to hear about how your friend did on their midterm or sending each other telegrams (not the messaging app, young grasshoppers) that are even more abbreviated than today’s texts. But the biggest problem of our modern messaging platforms, ie instantaneous relation of information, is exactly what is so constricting about them. They relay information, nothing more. You need to figure out the quickest way to say something to your friends and do so using the minimal amount of characters – you don’t want to take up too much of their time with a personal essay about your day or worse – bore them. It’s quick, it’s efficient, it’s detached. Emojis have tried to bridge the emotional gap but they seldom live up to their expectations. I mean, there’s a reason that we use voice recordings or actual calls in order to talk about the more important things – they allow us to use the full range of human expression and thereby also avoid the pitfalls of tonal misunderstanding. Not only that, but the more protracted media also allow us to extrapolate and develop our ideas more clearly, not only for your recipient but also for ourselves. “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” T.S. Elliot exclaims in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. And this is exactly it – by forcing ourselves into the parameters of maximally shortened communication, we do not only find it hard to express our own ideas but to also understand ourselves and our own thoughts. If Elliot couldn’t find the words to express himself in his long and slightly convoluted poem then how can we possibly do so within the confines of a few lines allocated to us?
There is a reason that letters, such as those written by Emily Dickinson, are studied in English curriculums along with poems and essays. They are windows into the human soul where grandiose ideas are put forward, developed, and debated. In a sense, writing a letter is done as much for the intended recipient as it is for the author. In having the freedom to commit concept to paper with little limitations of length and subject, thoughts are allowed the freedom to flow more naturally, to be taken to places that our otherwise formal, sardonic, and cut down communication of the 21st century doesn’t allow us to do. You are now not simply relaying information but also meaningfully engaging with the world around you, your reflection, and your recipient. It takes much greater care to write a letter then to shoot a text and I think that, at least for me, is part of the appeal. In a cynical post-truth world where everyone understands everything, it is a relief to find a space in which you can be absolutely, unashamedly candid. Where you can give your thoughts to flights of fancy and send them into the world, not having them buried within the confidentiality of personal journals.
In a world where everyone is both seeking connection with more and more reckless abandon as well as engaging in traditions of old, I believe that letter writing should be given another minute in the spotlight. Not because of feelings of misplaced nostalgia, but because perhaps it is another way for us to reconnect with ourselves and be human.