Saturday, December 09, 2006

Letters, and emails, and text messages...oh, my!

I've had to write a few letters recently. Not the old-fashioned handwritten stuff, mind you. A modern letter: sit down and type something on the computer, print it out, run an envelope through the printer, stuff the letter in, apply a stamp, take it to the mailbox. That kind of letter. And it dawns on me that I've become lazy about written communication.

When I was drafted (yes, Virginia, there once was a draft) and sent to serve as a medical officer in the Azores, I was separated from my wife and young son. In the three months it took for me to secure housing for them, I wrote every day--long, handwritten letters. Letters full of news, letters that carried my love for them across the ocean. And they wrote me back. Those were the days when correspondence meant something, because letters were the product of direct effort. Sure, there were business letters, knocked out on an IBM Selectric or even a Royal manual typewriter, but personal letters were handwritten.

Then came the computer, and writing a letter became easier. Type it, hit a few buttons, assemble the finished product. That's when handwritten letters began to go the way of the dinosaur. When email came along, it was great. Open your mail utility, grab an address from your address book, dash off a few words, hit a button. Easy as pie. Use it for personal notes, for business, even (my mother would faint) thank you notes. So easy, and seemingly about as permanent as letters written in the sand of a beach. Only when a few lawsuits and Federal investigations revealed that records of prior emails could be retrieved did some people begin to be more careful about what they committed to the information highway.

Now we have text messaging. My phone is capable of this mode of communication, but it's a painfully slow process for me, and I use it infrequently. I haven't really caught on to the shorthand that converts "My flight arrived on time. I miss you and love you. Let me hear from you," to "Arrvd OK, Luv U, Txt me."

So, other than the inexorable decline of our civilization, is there a point to this diatribe? I think so. Words are important. They're important enough to require thought before they're spoken, or committed to paper, or even typed onto a keyboard and sent forth into the world. As writers, and especially as writers who have a Christian worldview, our words are the currency of our trade. They are a reflection of who we are, as well as what we do. Whether we are writing an article, a short story, a novel, a non-fiction work, or a letter to a loved one, we should strive to make the finished product our best effort.

And that's my last word on the subject.


Susan Barnes said...

Even when I'm writing an email I strive for my best writing. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not because it takes so much longer. Maybe I'd write more if I wasn't so fussy.

Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Thanks for stopping by. A writer, more than anyone else, should choose his or her words carefully, whether in an email, an article, a story, or a book. After all, we're wordsmiths.
And it's not just a matter of being good practice for a writer to do so. I think that taking care in composing emails is an act of civility, something that has become rare in our modern day society.

Anonymous said...

Do those above-mentioned letters still exist? An interested party awaits your answer . . .

Love, Your Daughter

Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

As I explained just now in a more detailed (and private) email, the letters were lost, most likely when things had to be stored at the time Cynthia was able to join me overseas. I wish they still existed.