Letter Writing: It’s a Lost Art

“The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.”  — Lewis Carroll                     

Technology has revolutionized how humanity communicates with each other both on the micro and the macro level.  Information travels around the world instantaneously allowing communities and individuals to share experiences, traumas, and news from their part of the world.  These impulses can be shared through voice, video, written emails, social media posts, or even morse code dots and dashes all with the ability to increase the transport speed of this information exchange.  Improved communication speed has benefited society in multiple ways, but with much improvement comes lost skills in another area.

When was the last time you wrote a letter; taken that letter, folded it, placed it into an envelope, paid for postage, and sent it to someone?  Letter writing has become a lost art.

Most people these days at most may have written a postcard or perhaps hand written something in a Christmas or Birthday card for a friend or loved one.  CBS News published a study in 2021 stating only 31% of Americans have written a personal letter in the past year while only 35% of Americans have received a personal letter in the previous year.  There are multiple possible reasons for the lack of writing personal letters, but the study does not include any conclusions as to why individuals have reduced their letter writing activity.  Most likely, people do not have the required time to gather their thoughts, write them correctly with a pen/pencil, and then take the necessary actions to travel to the Post Office to mail the letter.

Lack of time is understandable for the modern person as more and more tasks have been foisted upon the individual with technological processes to keep our lives proceeding.  Military systems are no different as with “efficiency” methods have increased efficiency have only pushed required actions to the individual needing customer service.  With less and less time in our days, electronic mediums to communicate with others has become much more efficient as well with people relying on methods that either allow full visual and audio sharing or simple text messages through messengers.

Yet with so much stress and technology overload, society continues to develop not only more technological communication improvements, but also non-technological events to reduce stress.  There are adult coloring books, art projects of many different forms and shapes, and low technology toys and entertainment; all with the goal of either relaxing individuals while exploring different creative outlets.

Society needs to reconsider the lost art of letter writing and rediscover its benefits that, given our desperate need to find low technology tasks, would happily welcome.

What makes letter writing so powerful is the necessary time it takes to formulate your thoughts and transfer them to a medium that is not kind to mistakes.  Letter writing has a psychological and mental dimension for both the sender and receiver that other communication methods do not encompass.  How much emotional response do you get from receiving a Facebook Messenger message or an email (if people still send emails)?

How do you feel when you receive a letter or a handwritten Christmas card in the mail from someone that means to you?  Think about how as the recipient of a mail that is not a bill or advertisements made you feel.  We experience an entire array of emotions upon discovering a personally addressed envelope in our mailbox as our surprised wonder sparks our mind into pondering about not only about the person who sent the letter but what exactly they wished to pass to you.  We tend to rip into the letter and devour the words, written on paper in their own script, and filled with their spirit.  When we read their words, their voice in our head built upon their memories narrates their words and as we finish the story we are truly feel rewarded for the entire experience.

From the writer’s perspective, authoring letters is a process of self discovery and organizing our thoughts to subsequently display them to the individuals we communicate with.  Letter authors just do not simply dump their thoughts and emotions onto paper, but organize their ideas ensuring the correct words are used to communicate to the recipient.  Because these ideas are written onto a medium where the recipient can choose to destroy or keep for posterity purposes, the author is careful to craft just the right words but also not divulge certain information that are too sensitive for others to hear.  

Letter writing though is overall a great exercise in organizing one’s thoughts and communicating to other people.  The most difficult way to communicate to others is through words; it is easy to draw pictures, share voices, and adjust instantaneously the message if necessary due to message confusion.  Because we do not write as much any more and the way we receive information is through a visual medium, our written communication skills and vocabulary size have atrophied.  Nuance is a skill that comes with written communication due to the limited nature of time and medium space.

There are many mentally therapeutic benefits to writing these letters.  It allows the author to process their emotions, make themselves vulnerable, and approach topics that they may not feel comfortable fully discussing face to face.  Writers can put their emotions on paper, process them, and either discard or keep those thoughts.  Some letters may never get mailed.

These documents become not only a historical record for future generations or those around you, but they represent more than just the words on the paper.  One can learn more about the author including the artistic flair in the writing, the strokes and angles for each other letter.  What type of paper was used and how it was folded include speak to the priority or attention to detail the author spent in communicating their admiration to the topic.

When the author has passed from this world, the letter is a great memento the recipient can use to connect to the lost individual.  That letter is a remnant of the person that the recipient can pull out and immediate connect them to someone they wish they could talk face to face.  Those little tokens can mean the world to someone who has an emotional connection to someone they can no longer share those emotions.

With your reflections, leaders should find their own processes in which they can improve.  The lost art of letter writing is something you should balance into your daily actions given the many benefits to your life.  Taking that time to write, fold, and mail the letter demonstrate your commitment to the communication and to the recipient:  this is the unsaid goal of letter writing.



A 19 year Air Force Officer who never fully appreciated the art of writing until as a senior First Lieutenant and started writing to family members.  He sends postcards to his parents for every TDY and trip around the world.