In a recent Wall Street Journal article on “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note,” author Philip Hensher addresses how our increasing reliance on typing and texting is making the handwritten note go the way of the fax machine. He says, “The ready communication through electronic means that has replaced the handwritten letter is wonderful. But we have definitely lost something here, and those Skype, email and text exchanges won’t be treasured in the way that my teenage letters, scribbled journals and postcards have been for years.”
We couldn’t agree more. Recently, Jessica moved apartments and unearthed a shoebox full of handwritten notes from old friends, ex-boyfriends (not sure her husband appreciated that she hung onto those!) and thank you notes from magazine editors with whom she worked for years at Hearst Magazines, including the late, legendary Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown. Had those been sent to her via email or text, she definitely would not still have them — and they wouldn’t have had the same sentimental value.
When people ask us if, after a job interview or informational meeting, they should send a thank you via email or snail mail, we always suggest both. The speed of an email foll0w-up is great but can get buried in a busy person’s in-box (or even get lost in the “junk mail” folder if you’re sending it from an unfamiliar email address). In this day and age, when sadly we’re getting fewer and fewer letters in the mail, a handwritten thank you note, well-crafted on good stationery, will make a candidate stand out from others who chose not to take that extra, personal step.
In fact, a female magazine publisher we know said that if she interviews someone and they don’t send a real note as a follow-up, she will not hire them, no matter how impressive they were in person. And a media executive with whom Jessica works asks his sales staff for photocopies of the thank you notes they’ve handwritten and sent to clients and prospective clients during the week so he can make sure they’re actually doing it, versus relying on email alone.
The generation graduating from college now has grown up in a digital world. A world in which Hallmark stores barely exist because people now send e-vites and e-cards. Where the sleep-away camps they attended allowed parents and friends to send emails instead of real letters (of which we still have every exchange from our own childhoods). Where getting on the phone with their high school friends seemed foreign when they could just make plans via text message and IM. And where every student has a laptop, smartphone — and likely even a tablet device — before they’ve gotten their first full-time job.
But there’s still something to be said for taking the time to hand-write your thoughts — whether it be your feelings for a loved one, condolences for a friend who has experienced a loss, or a thank you to someone who has taken the time to help you with your career — and send through the good old US Postal Service (they could certainly use the business) in a real letter or card. Let’s not lose the art completely or our memories and sentiments will disappear into Internet purgatory when our in-boxes automatically delete old files. If we could have hand-written and mailed this blog post to everyone reading it, we would have.