A quick Wikipedia search teaches us that the Luddites were a band of workpeople that, in the 19th century, attempted to stop the implementation of mechanized textile production, in view that such machines would replace the workforce and that would lead to unemployment. The Luddites certainly failed, and their core idea did not come true. The mechanization of that, and many more industries, led to the industrialization of multiple societies, which in turn led to an increase in wealth and ushered an age of prosperity to many people.
But a derivative of the idea remained true. Technology has been, so far, for the better, but that does not mean it does not bring consequences and side effects. And one tiny example of that is that, nowadays, communication technology has made old fashioned letters obsolete. Nobody, and this is what I wonder, writes letters anymore, of any kind.
Think about it personally. When was the last time somebody wrote you a letter? When was the last time that a physical piece of paper, written by hand, reached you? In times past, such a letter contained an innate mystery: was it good news, or could they be disagreeable? But there was a certain substrate to the missive: somebody had thought of you, long enough to sit down and compose this message. While in college, and unable to pay for more than the briefest of phone calls, I used to write one letter a week to my mother, for her to share with the family. They were always about 5-6 pages long, a small recounting of my “adventures” in the great empire of the North. Many years later, while at home, I found a small box with all of them there, and I asked my mom about them. She replied that she kept them all and, when she was a bit down because of our distance, she would read them and it would make our separation easier to bear.
There is, or rather was, a sensual aspect about the printed paper, the feel of the sheet in your hands, the intricacy of, at times, deciphering the words and letters (in my case, calligraphy was never a strong suit). Even the random post card, with the brief cliché of “Wish You Were Here” written on it, brings a certain idea of the other person indeed wishing you were there, which is a lovely way of saying “I did think of you long enough to buy, write, and post this card”. As I used to enjoy traveling to many places, I always sent a post card to my elder sister with nothing more than that message. She knew the underlying feelings.
This modernity makes me wonder about this possibility: has the last love letter been written? When was the last time somebody sat down and put down to words that most intangible of feelings on a paper? And it would be a great loss if indeed nobody does that anymore. A personal example. I once wrote a love poem to the girl that I consider the love of my life. Still a very young man, I did have a certain skill with words, and I wrote this letter, which I folded into a neat package and handed to her as we crossed each other in the hall (these details of location and timing are not important). Later in the day, she told me she wanted to talk to me, and in the afternoon, we went for a walk. Sometime along our path, she held my hand as she took me to a particular place that we both enjoyed. It was early and therefore it was almost empty, and once there, without any warning or hesitation from her, she just spun around and kissed me. Not a soft peck on my cheek, not a brief brush of our lips. It was a full kiss, passionate to the extreme, a love declaration in return of my printed words and, when she finally pulled back (or we would both suffocate) she flatly told me “I love you”.
The power and intimacy of the printed word is something that our modernity may be making a thing of the past, and although these are the prices we pay for convenience and comfort, this price in particular may be a sorry trade to make. By now, the sole thing that people receive physically as mail is composed of bills or some other “bad news”. At the electronic level, very little else reaches e-mail other than spam and more bills, notices of payment dues and other forms of obligations. The young may be the ones that lost the most, as they perhaps would wonder what I talk about; hey, us the elders can remember not only receiving a love letter, perhaps more enjoyable, having written one. I still have my letter that I gave that girl, almost 40 years ago; when I asked her to give it back to me, she refused. But, in her beautiful penmanship, she wrote it back to me. Sometimes, when I am alone and enjoying the privacy of my memories, I find it and read it. It gives me many feelings to read those words: The pride of having thought them (I believe it is a worthy piece of literature), the sweet memory of when I was able to feel pure love of that kind (the realm of the young at heart), and the satisfaction that, at the very least, once in my life I did make it very clear, without the slightest possibility of denial, that I did love somebody.