The Futility of Writing Letters

Every year or so I blast out a message online asking if anyone would like to receive a letter or postcard in the mail, the condition being that they need to send me a response. Usually people say they would love to get one and promise to reply, but the replies never come. Or if they do reply, it’s one or two at most and then they dry up forever. There have been a few exceptions to this, but not many.

So why don’t people write letters? The most common response is probably, “I’m too busy.” That’s a pretty lame excuse. How much time do you spend every day playing with your phone, on Facebook or watching TV? Seriously, it doesn’t take much effort to shave ten minutes off of some time-wasting activity and scribble out a few lines on a piece of paper.

Another excuse that I’ve heard: “I don’t have stamps” or “The Post Office is so inconvenient.” Baloney. If you live in the U.S., or basically any other developed nation, this is not a valid excuse. Do you know how easy it is for you? Do you know the gigantic network of people who are ready to serve you by mailing your letter? You can put money in your mailbox and receive stamps the next day! You can put a letter in the mailbox six days a week and it will be taken care of!

Try living in a developing country. The postal service here in Vietnam seems to consist mainly of languid bureaucrats opening packages and soliciting bribes. Receiving mail here is a luxury for most people; it is not delivered daily, there are no regular carriers coming to every residence and there are no neighborhood post offices. I’m relatively lucky working just a few blocks from the central post office in town. If the post office wasn’t nearby it would be a nightmare getting things in the mail.

Back to letter-writing though, it seems mostly like a exercise in futility for me due to the limited responses that I get. I’ve heard of people looking up random addresses and mailing Christmas cards there; maybe I should try something like that with letters… I might get some responses.

I guess the gist of these paragraphs is this: take a few minutes every week to write a letter or postcard. They are rare and invaluable items in this day and age and show an immense amount of care to those that receive them. Also, if I write to you, write back.

The conclusion of my letter writing project, round 1

On June 17th, 2011, I send out a message on Twitter and Facebook asking friends outside of Vietnam if they would like to receive a real, hand-written letter from me. Ten people said that yes, they would. I took it upon myself to write an 11th letter to an old friend who I’d been out of contact with for some time as well.

I mailed the first letter out to my sister-in-law, Diana on June 20th. And today, August 12th, 2011, I mailed the final letter out.

I decided that I really like writing letters, even though it is slower, more expensive and more inconvenient than email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. At one point back in July, I was on a letter-writing binge and there were a couple days when I wrote two letters a day.

It takes more effort, yes, but it is so much more satisfying, at least for me (and I hope the recipients too). So far, I have received two replies and have been overjoyed to open my mailbox and find them. Sitting down and reading them, I feel so much closer to the people who sent them. The messy handwriting is sometimes like a code and the feel of paper between my fingers is comforting.

Despite the additional effort, I’m going to continue to try to write at least one letter a month. The problem is, I might run out of people to send them to. Let me know if you want one; if you receive one from me, be sure to write back.

Sincerely,

-Eric

P.S.: Here’s a picture I took at the Saigon Central Post Office at lunchtime when I mailed the final letter.