Nostalgia

I Tried Sending Texts As Old-Fashioned Handwritten Letters And This Is How People Reacted

by Desirée O

There are plenty of obvious reasons why we choose texting over most other kinds of modern communication. Most obviously, firing off a quick note via smartphone is fast, easy, and gives us the ability to use adorably expressive emojis. On the flip side, however, the convenience of modern times has seen handwritten letters largely going the way of the dodo. While some of us (unfortunately) still receive bills in the mail, and perhaps get the occasional birthday card from an elderly relative, we rarely see letters from friends just to say hello.

That’s not really surprising considering handwritten correspondence requires things we don’t generally have a lot of these days — namely, spare time, stamps and envelopes on-hand, and the ability to write legibly. Seriously, constant typing and neglected penmanship have me scrawling out script like a 2-year-old.

However, we might not want to discount the importance of pen pals. Catherine Field explained in the New York Times, “A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.”

Which got me thinking: What about some hybrid of tactile old-school letters and modern text messages? If I sent text-like messages via snail mail, how would my friends and family react? Would they still appreciate the handwritten sentiments, even though the messages were short and sweet? Would they find the endeavor pointless, if quirky? Would they think I was some sort of wonky time-traveler? (I could only hope this was the case.) I decided to give it a go.

 

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To get the full experience, I “aged” some paper using the tea-soaking technique we all perfected in elementary school — although the herbal tea I had in my pantry wasn’t dark enough, so I had to use vanilla hazelnut coffee instead. This hack gave my letters a yummy scent. I then donned an appropriately old-fashioned outfit, took up my quill (or rather, a craft feather I found at the dollar store), and sat down to pen my letters by candlelight. Hey, if you’re going to do it, might as well do it right.

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I started off by thinking of popular texts that I would normally send. I then texted each message to my husband so that I could compare how each one looked digitally to how it looked when written on actual paper. Each line was quick to type out, and with a simple tap of the send button, they were immediately received by my hubby. Though, to be honest, he was a little confused by the flood of random messages.

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Because I’m a total nerd who loves to take experiments to the extreme, I couldn’t resist adding a little artistic flair to the process by aging some paper, as aforementioned. I cut standard leafs of white paper into sections and left them soaking in coffee overnight. I added a few coffee grinds to make the paper look dirty. I then hung the sheets up to dry, allowing them to crinkle and wrinkle their way to something that looked like it could have been ripped out of an ancient manuscript (not that I would ever do such a thing!).

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It was then time to write each note. To keep with the vintage vibe, I put my hair up in a bun, wrapped myself in a shawl, sat down at the antique secretary desk that usually sits unused in my dining room, and began writing by candlelight.

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While I knew using a quill and inkwell wouldn’t be easy, it was even trickier than I expected. Granted, that could have been because I was dipping a dollar store feather into inky paint in a tiny Mason jar, but I did my best. I also tried using a pencil and marker along with a tracing light, but in the end opted for true ink and a vintage font.

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I didn’t rush the writing, and while it took me over an hour to finish, it didn’t feel like a chore because I was enjoying an activity I rarely get to do anymore. I appreciated the fact that I could spend time thinking about each person who would receive the letter, and I was excited to find out how they would react to my “text letters.”

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It’s been so long since I’ve actually put something into the mail! Thanks to the fact that we can easily wish our loved ones a happy birthday on Facebook, I rarely even send birthday cards anymore. And while I love the holidays, I didn’t manage to give out Christmas cards last year (my bad!). Sending off letters to my friends and family felt like a welcome nod to the past.

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One part of this little experiment I didn’t expect was my own reaction, once the letters had been sent out. I thought I’d mail off each message and then forget about them until I heard back from my friends and family. But instead I found myself waiting impatiently and eagerly anticipating the responses. It was also weird to NOT get an immediate reaction to my messages, as we’ve become conditioned to the immediacy of getting a text back ASAP.

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When the responses finally started coming in, I was about one million times more excited than I would normally be about a text. And while I was slightly worried that the people in my life would think I had gone slightly bonkers, it turned out that they found the entire situation as silly and as fun as I did.

I sent my friend Chuck a general question that I text when I want to touch base with and check in on someone: “How’s life treating you?” Chuck thought the letter was “delightful” and added, “It actually made me pause and think about the question. If this was a text I’d be likely to dismiss it as rhetorical.”

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I sent my sister, Tiffany, and my mom, Janette, the same message: “Miss u! <3”. While I thought they’d both appreciate the sentiment since it’s quite true (I live far away from them both and don’t see them as often as I’d like), I was wondering if they’d understand the non-emoji heart.

Tiffany appreciated the gesture, saying, “Dear Des, so nice to receive your letter. Miss you too!” Having just moved to a small town, she also used the opportunity to give me an update on her life, writing, “It’s a different world here, much slower pace and people actually ask how you are and mean it!” I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in her new tiny community still write more handwritten letters than texts.

My mom sent me a message that made me realize how something tactile can create an added connection: “sigh. This brings me close to you, and reminds me you’re not here, all in the same breath,” she wrote. “I love you back, miss you more! <3”. Note the heart. My mom is definitely savvy.

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I sent my pal Corey a bit of a cheeky message, writing, “New phone letter. Who dis?” He admitted that he loved the vintage-style letter, “whatever it is.” He added, “My first reaction was a smile and a giggle.” That’s definitely the kind of reaction I was hoping to get. Who doesn’t love to make their friends smile and giggle?!

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I wrote to my mom’s husband, Ramiro, and my friend, Ben, to tell them both, “ROFLMAO” (which, if you’re not knowledgeable when it comes to texting acronyms, means “rolling on the floor laughing my ass off”). While it was a completely random message, I couldn’t resist the trying out the silly acronym.

Ramiro responded, “I guess I have to Google that (as I laugh).” I made a second person laugh? Amazing!

Ben felt like the handwritten letter held more weight than the messages we’re used to getting these days — despite it’s nonweighty contents. “My initial reaction is, Des, ‘text’ seems a lot more genuine than something just quickly texted out,” he wrote. “The effort makes it seem more significant.”

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I sent my brother-in-law, Dave, a letter asking, “Wanna grab a coffee?” He sent me back a cheeky response that made me smile, writing, “Coffee would be nice. Tea would be better!!”

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I thought it would be fun to send my husband, Ryan, a letter as well, so he also received one inquiring about a coffee date.

It turned out that Ryan was the one person I had to nudge for a response, merely because when he brought in the mail, he put it aside to sort through later and forgot about it. It made me realize how convenient texts are when it comes to replying to messages ASAP before they’re forgotten amid our busy lives. When Ryan was able to answer (or rather, when I was all, “Dude, where’s my response?”), he explained that he “love[ed] the effort involved in this simple question.” He added, “To know that it took you more time makes it more sentimental than a simple text.”

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Sending texts as letters was definitely a fun experience. It was unexpected for my friends and family, both due to the fact that we’re not used to receiving old-school correspondence anymore and because of the odd nature of each message.

The letters allowed me to connect with people I care about in a way that I don’t often get to anymore, and the irreverence of the texts-as-letters format seemed to bring a smile to everyone’s face, which certainly made it a worthwhile (and, yes, totally silly) experiment that you might want to try for yourself!