A Case for Letter Writing in the Digital Age

Picture of a wall and dresser with letters, cards, and notes

I first started writing letters in about 6th or 7th grade. I would write them to friends over summer break even though we saw each other frequently enough that my updates would be obsolete by the time the postal service carried my words from one side of town to the other. My mom always said, “it’s nice to get something in the mail that isn’t a bill,” and although I did not understand the dread of bills at the time, I understood the joy a letter could bring. She was right, I did like getting cards in the mail, and I liked sending them even more. I liked writing down thoughts and well wishes, sending them off into blue boxes on street corners with the hope someone else’s day would be brightened by its arrival.

The early phase of my letter writing mostly contained chronological accounts of my life. That was fine, especially for my grandpa who otherwise might not know what was happening in my day to day, but eventually, with the increase in cell phone, email, and social media usage those updates were less necessary. At that point, my letter writing morphed from detailing the big events to more about thoughts, reflections, and curiosities I wanted to share and explore with others. Call me old fashioned, but letter writing has been and is my favorite form of communication besides being in person with someone. For me, there is a direct path from my head, heart, and gut to my hand that is almost unconscious. Writing with a pen on paper is more natural and less cumbersome. In college, and still today, I have to handwrite my first draft of anything before heading to a computer.

Writing has been an important part of my life for awhile, but there is something even more vulnerable, and in result, comforting about sending thoughts out into the world to be read and absorbed by another. Over the years, I have exchanged letters with people who live a few blocks away and many countries away. Looking back through letters from different phases of my life provides intimate (and sometimes forgotten) insight into what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I now know.

JVC was probably the peak of letter writing for me. During my year in San Jose, CA, letter writing became one of my main practices in simple living. It was a way to stay connected with busy people in other time zones, to compare and contrast this experience with other JVs across the United States, and a way to process all that was taking place throughout the year. The featured picture for this blog post is one I took in my bedroom at the end of my JV year. It captures all of the letters, cards, and notes exchanged throughout those transformative months. Those letters are a record of my time there and the people near and far who were part of it. While I absolutely appreciated and fully utilized other ways of communication, seeing someone’s handwriting on a page allowed me to be connected with them in a way that standard font on a digital screen did not. Writing letters became a ritual for slowing down, being intentional with my words, and inviting others into my experience.

So, I invite you to try it, too. Write a short note – nothing grandiose – to a friend letting them know you’re thinking of them. Maybe tell them a funny story of something that happened the other day or what you see on your daily commute. Send it off, and don’t worry if they’ll respond. It’s about sharing yourself and spreading loving kindness through the slow poke mail that might just make someone’s day.

Some memorable correspondence:

  • A game of international tic-tac-toe
  • Seeing a box of all the letters I had ever sent my grandpa on top of his refrigerator while we were cleaning out his house after he died
  • Letters back and forth with Mr. M in the Santa Clara County Jail
  • The word “hug” written over the back flap of an envelope coming from the Boston JV house
  • Postcards with suggestions for new creative projects
  • Beautiful lettering that was as pretty to look at as it is to read

Photo by Cami Kasmerchak

About Cami Kasmerchak

Cami is a writer, photographer, and avid reader. She has lived in 6 different states (WI, MO, TN, VA, CA, WA), one other country (South Africa), and currently resides in St. Louis, MO where she is pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to her year of service with JVC, she also served with AmeriCorps VISTA and has worked in multiple non-profit agencies focusing on education, housing, workforce development, re-entry services, and long-term recovery support. Her dream jobs are to be a photographer for National Geographic and a licensed social worker both promoting connection to nature as a path for healing. She is excited to be contributing both blog posts and art to The Ruined Report. (Casa Pedro Arrupe, San Jose 2015-2016) Follow her photography on Instagram @camikazphotography or visit her website at https://camikazphotography.wixsite.com/mysite