The other day I received a lovely handwritten note from a reader who enjoyed my column. I greatly appreciated this lost art of communication. Post offices mostly serve as a place to pick up bills and junk mail, and run into your ex when your eyes are smeared with last night’s mascara and you realize you have put your yoga pants on inside out. No, just me?
In many ways, I am old-fashioned, and feel great nostalgia for things lost. I miss letters, especially love letters. I don’t think there will ever be volumes of the great texts between Tristan and Isolde. Part of this reason is because handwriting carries a person’s energy, just like a lock of hair, a crucial part of any good love spell or curse. It used to be a person’s signature was their mark. Now to buy things, most of us sign on some sort of screen with our fingertip.
When I was growing up, cursive was mandatory, yet the promise of the professional advantages of proper penmanship have turned out to be vastly overrated. Now it is only mandated in certain schools. I was curious about script’s origin, so I said, “Siri, why was cursive invented?” (I’m not that much of an old fart). Turns out, scribes in Europe in the 16th Century needed a more fluid form in order to write more swiftly. We have now downgraded to the point that communication is sent in an instant thanks to using only our opposable thumbs.
But don’t we at least need cursive for something? I mean, what about signing a check? I get confused now when we are paid via Venmo, PayPal, or Bitcoin (OK, I draw the line at getting paid in crypto currency). I realized the younger generation’s dependence on these apps when I was outside Sag Harbor Variety Store and some millennials wanted to ride the mechanical pony only to realize the machine didn’t take Apple Pay. When they asked me for change, they weren’t begging, they just didn’t deal in that currency. I reached into my adult-lady wallet with cash, credit cards, a driver’s license, stamps, a library card, my Channel 13 member card, Victoria’s Secret discount card, the phone number of a psychic, a hair tie, an emergency Xanax, and, yes, quarters, to help them out.
And where does etiquette stand in this modern communication world? I still believe a hand written thank you note is appropriate, but do any of us have each other’s “snail mail” address anymore? Is an email, text, Facebook comment, or fist-bump emoji the most appropriate way to respond to a major life event? And what about a salutation? Like, in letter writing, I still appreciate the use of Dear Ms. Buchanan, which, to the unfamiliar, is a fancy way of saying, “sup.”
Basically, the formal has become informal. We’re living in a world that is constantly “Casual Friday.” And while it’s great that a hoodie is cool for the office, there is still a place for a suit and tie. The formal is not meant to demean, but instead to be a sign of respect, either professionally or personally. I must admit, I am guilty as well when responding to a message with “K.” Because, you know, OK would take too much time to write.
Maybe counterprogramming is the way, and to stand out, using handwritten communication earns attention. Of course, unless you are a physician writing a prescription, your words need to be legible. See if taking pen to paper doesn’t tap into another part of your brain, and maybe, create a little magic.