Pen and paper are calling

Intentional forms of communication like letter writing forge deeper relationships with new friends and loved ones. Photo by Lauren Hough.

LAUREN HOUGH | OPINION COLUMNIST | lhough@butler.edu

The summer before my senior year of high school, the constant communication I had grown used to — the texting, calling, Facetime and Snapchatting — was suddenly taken away when my boyfriend left for the United States Naval Academy. For six weeks, he wasn’t allowed to use any form of communication — with the exception of letter writing. 

Over the next 40-some days I wrote upwards of 60 letters — and paid for a ridiculous amount of postage — to keep him updated on the happenings back home, my day-to-day thoughts and, of course, sports scores. 

The latest generation of college students have grown and developed during a technological revolution; our unlimited access to immediate information and idealistic influences has changed the way we learn, interact and communicate on a daily basis. Whether it’s through dating apps, video calls, text messaging or even gaming chat rooms, the ways college students deepen relationships is drastically different than the letters of our grandparents. 

Three years have passed since my boyfriend left, and though we are able to call every night, we still regularly write one another letters. Now, I even make it a point to encourage my friends to write letters — and there are plenty of reasons you should too.

First and foremost, instant communication methods like text messages, phone calls and Snapchat are convenient, yes, but they don’t require much thought. At the push of a button, we are able to express any level of emotion that can overcome us in a moment. Physically putting pen to paper and deciding just which words will accurately and eloquently portray those emotions requires the writer to slow down. 

Oftentimes, slowing down results in a deeper level of communication for the individuals involved. Senior psychology major Ben Brown wrote letters back and forth with his friends over break.

“As soon as you put pen to paper, you start getting more personal,” Brown said. “Writing effaces the meaning you put into words and replaces them with expression.”

With the decline of snail mail, birthday cards and well-wishes in our mailboxes have been replaced with superficial advertisements and bills. As a result, the thrill of checking the mailbox for envelopes with your name scrawled across the front has faded. Because of handwritten notes from my loved ones, my heart still races when I turn the key to my mailbox.

Sophomore psychology major Elliana Hamilton values the ease of modern technology while also acknowledging the importance of letter writing. With a significant other in the Army, Hamilton has spent plenty of time utilizing both forms of communication.

“Having a phone and being able to FaceTime and talk is amazing,” Hamilton said. “But at the same time, if he were to write me a letter out of the blue, I would probably cry. It’s something we have definitely bonded over.”

The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic has limited travel, separated loved ones and freed up time. COVID-19 has presented the perfect opportunity to give this dying art a try. Even if you aren’t in a long-distance relationship or don’t have friends around the globe, try writing notes to the ones who live close by. Chances are, they’ll enjoy the sentiment and you’ll both have a new experience. 

Katie Strohl, a junior actuarial science major, chose to write letters to her roommates for their Valentine’s Day gifts this year. 

“I think it’s a lot more personal and a lot of people don’t do it anymore,” Strohl said.

Strohl emphasized that writing letters to her roommates allowed her to express her appreciation for them and share why they are so important to her. 

Brown and Strohl both found ways to add a little bit of spice to their letters. Brown has included torn-out book pages, pressed flowers and black-out poetry. Strohl chose to attach Polaroid photos from previous adventures with the recipient. Including unique and personal mementos can add a whole new dimension to the letter-writing experience. 

If you want to spark new friendships through letter writing, several apps and websites can connect you with new pals. These pals can be determined based on interests, languages you’d like to learn or completely random assignments. While some platforms foster online-only communication, the letter-writing sentiment can still be found in the intention of the act. One app, named Bottled, places the user on a virtual island where they write letters and toss them out to sea. Other users can then pick letters to read off of their virtual beach based on the country and name of the sender. Once a bottle is selected, the user can chat with their new friend! 

A website called InterPals focuses on connecting people from different countries, cultures, and most importantly — languages. It is designed to help the user link with individuals who can help them practice and learn another person’s native language. The best part is that as you learn a new language, you teach someone else yours. This is a great way to explore new places while travel restrictions are still in place because of COVID-19.

A pen pal app that made its viral rounds on Twitter last year goes by the name of Slowly. Slowly focuses solely on letters sent via snail mail. The developers have managed to gamify letter writing by encouraging users to write letters through the collection of “stamps” — a  currency that allows you to unlock new features on the app. Slowly, pen pals are matched based on interests and language. 

In the wake of the pandemic, our generation has been left disconnected from many parts of everyday life. Letter writing can help revive and reconnect fractured relationships or spark an intimate connection between complete strangers. It is the perfect time to take a break from the ever-present pull of social media, give your eyes some respite from screens and foster deep conversation. 

To find refuge from our current reality, we need to slow down the pace of life and reflect upon the people in our lives that have made the greatest impact. What better way to demonstrate your appreciation than writing a letter?

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