As I was yesterday trying to catch up on my post-card writing of the Summer, pretending I had written but had forgotten to send the promised postcards and was now sending them from London (I have now blown my cover for anyone reading this and receiving my postcard of rainy Brittany from London in the next few weeks), I remembered a conversation with French friends around letter writing as a long lost habit to be deplored.
One friend was telling me how insistent she was at still sending letters to her good friends as opposed to e-mailing them, while I was surprised to hear another one say that he was now typing the letters rather than hand-writing them. In any case, we were all complaining that despite writing long letters to some friends, they didn't always reciprocate, and we lamented the loss of pleasure from writing and receiving long letters in this new world of emerging technology.
If there is an art-project out there looking at people's strongest memories of sending/receiving letters, I'd love to take part, as I take great pleasure in remembering dousing my very first lovel letter to a classmate in the cheapest cologne and seeing his disbelieving face and scrunched up nose when I handed it to him.
I have recently wondered at how hand-writing notes of long meetings (2-3 hrs) make my wrist and hand ache, while I spent written exams of up to 7 hours hand-writing without any discomfort as a student. At 34 I think this is due more to lack of practice than to arthritis, and I have been trying to hand-write more in the last few months (mostly To Do Lists like so many).
So as I wonder if we'll soon be having an App that creates postcards for us, inclusive of 'authentic-looking' coffee stains and bent ears, and if I can remember the protocol of writing a proper letter again.
I also wonder if typing (if not 'tapping' on touchscreens) will one day mark the end of our ability to hold a pen, and if our evolution will eventually enable us to do away with hand-writing altogether? Will our language follow that trend (usually much later, as we still call manu-scripts 'typed-up first versions of novels'), will we lose the word mani-pulate and all the other words starting with man-(manus, hand in latin) that imply the use of our opposable thumbs in some way or another ?
Discussing the impact of technology on our lives with Critical Designer James Auger as we walked around beautiful Belle-Ile, we watched a Ferry 'sailing across' (as an arrogant French I argued the Ferry should be 'motoring across') and ended up looking for examples of when language had been overtaken by technology. I'm sure there's plenty and as a former student of Linguistics I marvel at the adaptive flexibility and open-mindedness to technological revolutions of the verb 'to ride', seamlessly moving form the horse to the invention of the bicycle and then of the motorbike (what next for it?).
While I believe that in many cases technology can be giving us a wonderful new tool to write the same content as before, and in a similar style (e-mails are like fast letters; tweets are like telegrams, with their own meta-language of @s and #s instead of STOPs, bringing their own nostalgia; blogging is another form of diary/column, all of the above with the big difference of the audience reading them), I also think that the way we now shape what we want to say is being influenced by the medium we're going to use to express those messages, a process I findv ery similar to learning a foreign language .
As I started tweeting and blogging (2 months ago, so still a fresh experience), I found myself thinking in tweets and turning my inner monologue into blogposts (including this one), trying to make it interesting, cross-referenced etc. When I caught myself thinking about my son's homework in 140 characters and hashtags I felt like I was back in University reading too much of the French playwright Racine and thinking in 12-syllable sentences (the equivalent of thinking in iambic pentameters if you've been reading too many Shakespeare Sonnets), something that is probably common amongst actors. It made me realise that despite all my old-school book-rather-than-kindle and phone-rather-than-Facebook approach, my brain and the way I produce language are being shaped by the technology I choose to use.
I also realised that the argument for making informed choices about technology and not letting it decide for us was becoming very relevant to me (an argument at the core of the Critical Design discipline and Speculative Futures approach).
So while I am thrilled and thankful to the invention of blogs for giving me at last an opportunity to write without having to pretend to be an essayist, I also want to reclaim what I miss from my letter-writing days: sitting in a quiet place, with a fountain pen and a clean smooth piece of A4, looking out the window reflecting on the past few months (as often as I can hope writing letters) , wondering how they could be turned into nice epistolary sentences written along straight lines (a graphic challenge in itself for me).
As my grandmother would never be reading my e-mails, she will be thrilled by this new resolution (when/if I manage to carry it out), as would probably be many grandparents and older people who do not receive that many hand-written letters any more.
Would a fund-raising campaign asking people to donate £1 and to send a hand-written letter to a loved one for a charity like Age Concern be successful? I think my grand-mother would like it very much.