Communication of All Kinds for Fun and Profit

A number of readers have taken pokes at me for my recent Writing Letters post. Interestingly enough, since the time I wrote that post, I’ve picked up another pen pal. The post, in case you haven’t read it yet, makes the point that most forms of communication have a purpose, or are at least a bit fun to employ. As long as I have correspondents, I’ll continue to write them letters. It’s something I look forward to doing now each Thursday night. There is something quite nice about receiving letters in the mail and I don’t relish ever giving it up.

It was while I was reading some reader e-mails that I came across another form of communication in the ComputerWorld article entitled, “Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP.” Interestingly enough, in the country where the telegram was first sent, Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2013. The final telegram was sent on July 14th. Perhaps someone should mention to Western Union that the Japanese have a thriving telegram business and suggest we follow their model. It’s hard to see someone else take over a technology that we created through innovation and hard work.

The point is that there is something to be said for older forms of communication, even those that aren’t particularly practical today. Although I can make a strong case for writing letters, the arguments for continuing to use telegrams, except for the pure pleasure of sending one, are a bit weaker. Even so, it’s interesting that the Japanese have continued to make them work. The difference seems to be one of desire and, of course, innovation.

My one, and only, telegram turned out to be of the singing variety. Fortunately, the fellow who delivered it had a pleasant voice. You can still find places that will deliver a singing telegram for you, complete with the tchotchke of your choice (mine came with balloons and a letter from my wife, telling me she loved me). As a high speed form of communication, the telegram’s days are done. We have all sorts of other ways to accomplish the task now. However, getting a telegram could still be viewed as quite special.

There are many other interesting forms of communication. I’ve never had anyone hire a skywriter for me, but you can still find them online as well. I imagine more than one fellow has relied on skywriting to propose; although, it never occurred to me to try it. Nothing quite attracts your attention though like a message written in a clear blue sky—assuming that the weather is accommodating.

As an author of technical books, I spend a great deal of time looking at communication in all its forms: verbal, aural, visual, and other forms. I once spent a month researching the tactile vocoder—a device that allows its wearer to hear through the skin using vibration. Imagine that you’re deaf and the tactile vocoder makes it possible for you to hear again, even if you don’t have actual ears. So, it’s not too unusual for me to look at communication both old and new to see how it’s being used today and whether it might not be employed in some other manner. So, yes, I still write letters and I’m still rooting for the telegram, but I’ve also looked into odd devices that help people communicate in amazing ways. Communication, in all its amazing forms, is something you do from the day you’re born until the day you die. Let me know about your view of communication at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Writing Letters

It seems outdated, old fashioned, archaic, and all the other superlatives you can attach to it—writing letters, by hand, and then mailing them sees like something that no one does anymore. Contrary to common belief, letter writing isn’t completely dead in this electronic world of instant communication using text messages. I’ve been writing regularly to five people. Yes, I actually get out writing materials, write the letter by hand, and then put it in the mail. Of course, the question is why I’d do something so insane in this modern world. People I tell about my letter writing ask what I might possibly hope to achieve by doing so. In fact, some might even doubt my sanity.

There is something to be said for taking time to properly compose a letter. The physical effort required to write one, tends to make the value of each word more. A well-written letter is a joy to send and receive. Taking the time to pick and choose each word, to consider what really is necessary to say, makes a written letter different from e-mail or a text message. As the value of each word drops, so does the quality of the content. It’s something that has struck a chord in me as I’ve read the written missives and compared them to some of the e-mails I receive. Not every written letter is a good one and not every e-mail is poorly written, but generally, the written letters contain carefully selected, well-written material.

However, quality of content aside, there is something special about receiving a letter in the mail. There is the anticipation of sending one and the anticipation of receiving a response. Each trip to the mailbox is no longer a boring collection of bills and junk, but a contemplation of something that is truly wanted. It adds excitement to my day. As I’m getting older, I find that instant gratification lacks excitement, anticipation, and pizzazz. In order to be worthwhile, anticipation needs time to grow and mature. Hand written letters bring something back that has been lost, a kind of hope that is missing from modern society.

Even more important, a written letter stimulates the senses in ways that an e-mail can’t. I opened a box of letters the other day from my wife. She wrote them while I was in the service and I could still smell her perfume on some of them. You can’t perfume an e-mail. Her fine writing reminded me of her unique way of approaching life—the letters were both dainty and artistic. They had a flow that reflected her way of viewing life. E-mail lacks any of that sort of feel. The paper itself varied from letter-to-letter. Some of it was quite fancy; other pieces contained interesting pictures. However, each letter was unique in its own way, making the experience of reading it unique as well. All these ways of transmitting information are lost in the instant gratification of e-mail and many younger people will never experience the joy of opening a mailbox and finding a letter, a unique transmission of thought from one person to another.

One of the main arguments I hear against writing letters is the cost of doing so. After all, postage is incredibly high. I started thinking about that the other day and it doesn’t wash. Consider the cost of your Internet connection. Even an inexpensive plan would pay for quite a number of letters each month. Given the plan I have (a low cost 1 Mb/s DSL connection), I could write 40 letters every month and still not exceed what I’m paying for Internet. Actually, the mail service is still a bargain when you think about it.

This morning I also listened to a radio program that talked about the importance of the hand written letter in understanding the past. Some historians spend considerable time reading letters and drawing information out of them that probably isn’t available in an e-mail. Of course, most people erase their e-mails soon after they’re received, so there won’t be much in the way of historical data for historians in the future to use. E-mail tends to be temporary—letters can last for hundreds of years (and many do).

Of course, social media, texting, e-mails, and the Internet all have a purpose to fulfill. There are times when quick communication with a large number of people really is necessary. However, there is still a place for the more personal communication provided by hand written letters. Take time to write a letter to someone you care about today. Let me know your thoughts about hand written letters at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.