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Letter Writing: The Pen Is Mightier Than the Email

Why I like to turn off my cell phone, power down my computer, and write a good, old-fashioned letter.

Remember the letter? No, I don’t mean those hastily written electronic messages tapped out on Blackberries, cell phones or laptops, peppered with “LOL” or cutesy faces made from punctuation marks. I’m talking about the letter we used to actually write by hand – the signed, sealed and delivered kind, whether it was a business letter or one bearing words of love and passion. While it has not yet been declared dead, the written letter is definitely on the critical list, joining objects such as the typewriter.

Don’t get me wrong: I have a cell phone and a laptop, and I love the almost magical efficiency of e-mail and voicemail. But these modern marvels of communication, despite the speed and ease with which they allow us to reach out and touch someone, lack the soul of a handwritten letter.

For me, writing a letter involves more than putting words on paper. I sit at my desk near the window, use my best stationery and pen, and allow only my best penmanship to grace the page. I have no distracting sounds around me, except perhaps for some quiet music to create an atmosphere conducive to reflection. My choice of materials, my setting and the words I select raise an otherwise mundane act to the level of ritual, imbuing the ordinary with a specialness that no technological gadget could achieve. I enjoy watching my words take shape in ink, unfurling my thoughts across the paper.

And I take equal pleasure in receiving a handwritten letter from a friend or family member, taking in not only its message, but also the unique slant and curvature of the writer’s lettering. A written letter is a creation as individual as our fingerprints, and its words bear the emotion, intelligence and personal style of its author. The pen is, undoubtedly, still mightier than the e-mail. When we write rather than type, we make the effort to go beyond mere message to something more memorable.

The AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Pamela A. Lewis is a reader from Elmhurst, New York.

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