the daily column

The Letter Writing Experiment

I’m in the middle of an experiment right now: writing real letters. It all came about because of a movie which featured letters prominently as a plot device, and the discussion that followed in my family about how letters used to be the only way to communicate across distances. Telephones reduced that, and email has virtually eliminated the need to send a letter which is not business related.

I left that in my ideas drawer for a bit, noting it as something to perhaps come back to in the future. (I don’t actually have an “ideas drawer”, it’s more the abstract concept.) A few weeks ago, I picked up the book White Mughals, which is about the East India Company and its rise in the late Mughal era of India – nicely historical, engagingly written book. I noticed that the primary sources for so much of the writer’s information was letters (other sources like journals also cropped up). That got me thinking… what would the historians 200 years from now scour over? Google’s old decaying datacentre hard-drives? An that was bigger than the ‘operating net’ itself? History rarely records the emepheral things such as conversations, and one could say quite easily that emails etc are just digitized conversations, not letters in the same sense they were 200 years ago.

So I hit upon an idea: why don’t I do some letter writing? =) I’d send it to some friends, see if I got a reply, and if things got interesting we’d have a bit of a correspondence going.

It would be conceited of me to say that I want these letters to preserve somehow a snapshot of life as it is now, and that perhaps a book would be written in the future on the basis of my letters. It is far more likely that the net will endure, in some form, and that this blog or my emails are more likely to survive in the great archive, to be indexed and searched and cross referenced by increasingly smarter programs. But, well, there was a bit of a novelty to the idea of writing letters – something which perhaps 10 years ago would have been considered far more normal.

I don’t even know how to write a letter in the conventions of those who’ve gone before – I know how to write a super-serious business-related letter, and I can recall some conventions when writing a letter to relatives, but that always felt a little too formal, a little too serious. I tend to write my letters as I would emails, albeit longer and more stream-of-concious because I can’t go back and edit them like I could a long email. I’m using the techniques of writing double-spaced I learnt so well in year 12 because my handwriting was atrocious, and hasn’t really gotten better the more I’ve used computers nearly exclusively to write things. Occasionally even I can’t decipher my own writing, which is kinda tragic.

So, perhaps expect a letter from me, or at least a message asking for your address =)

Update: Writing letters takes much longer than I thought it would.

7 replies on “The Letter Writing Experiment”

kirsty: lol yeah I realised that mistake with yours! (since yours was the first one) I was waiting for you to ask… anyway: 23 Stowe Court, Wattle Grove, NSW 2173

I actually kept a correspondence up with one of my friends who lived in the same city as me, haha… it was pretty fun though. Pages and pages of randomness and a lot of ranting/bsing.

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