There is something mildly real about things written on real paper. There is an ephemeral quality to anything written on a computer screen - to these words, which I am writing on a computer now. There is no resistance to these keys. there is no reassuring sound of typebars hitting the paper. The objects on the desk don’t vibrate toward the edges as I type. What I’m doing in the world is not as much. But more than that the words are easy to erase, which almost by definition makes them less real. They are like a move in a game of chess while keeping a finger on the piece. These words are like telling your significant other you don’t want to break up, but you don’t want to move into together. They are uncommitted, they are ultimately noncommittal. All I have to do is hit 3 keystrokes and its all gone - select all, delete. They are like doing your best dance moves when nobody is watching.
Words on paper, on the other hand, are the real show. Writing on paper is just a little more like real life. Mistakes are going to be made, and they can be fixed. But it’s sometimes a bit more than just the delete key. There are gonna be strikethroughs trying to erase the past and circles and arrows trying to move things to the other side of the proverbial fence. When the mess gets confusing enough you have no alternative but to put in a fresh sheet and try to start over.
I’m writing this on a computer. Because computers offer the writer a lot of the same opportunities we all want in reality. To make things turn out a little better than they really are. We know this. This is really why we have computers. And all the internet extensions that come with them. All instagram selfies to be taken at a downward angle to slim our faces. Our wittiest comments honed to less than 140 characters, (hash tags included). Friends made at a click and identities crafted from selective photos or blog posts. We believe that our real selves don’t live up to our internet selves. In this metaphor that I’m attempting to create in these words, we are Icarus, and our computers are wings made of wax and feathers to help us fly a little nearer the altitude we want to be at.
I believe that if I were writing this on my typewriter it would be less polished than if I wrote it on my computer. It would take me more time, effort, ink and sheets of paper than I’m using right now. It would take more out of me. At the end of the day I'm writing this on my computer because I fear that if I wrote it on paper it wouldn't be as good.
But there is a flip side to this. And I believe its one we see less and less to the point that we are forgetting it exists - like an aging relative. And the flip side is that things written on screens have less impact on the reader than things written on paper A tweet may be read by a million people, and a letter in the mail may only be read by one. But that tweet will hold the readers attention for as long as it takes them to scroll to the next one, its has as much staying power in the mind as a mayfly in a stiff breeze. A letter on the the other hand has both form and duration. In the amount of time it takes a person to read the sender’s address on the envelope of a real letter most of us have scanned through our inboxes and opened fresh tabs on our browsers. A letter in the mail is held, and is read, and sometimes you then give it to the next person in the house and you wait and you watch while they read it. You see on the page the scribbles through a word where the writer thought of a better one a moment too late. You can see right on the page the sender taking the time to compose a message to you.
And then, when you are through with it, a letter it goes somewhere. When you read a great email you click a little red flag on it and it goes in with all the other little red flags in the unplumbed background of your mail program. A great letter, meanwhile, you put between the pages of a good book and you come across it months later and enjoy it afresh. A bad email you click delete and are left with a hollow shadow of the words, and the knowledge that they still exist in someone's sent folder. With an unkind letter, on the other hand, you can have the cathartic exercise of crumpling it up and throwing it away.
This website is a small step to bring back letters. I know that written letters aren't going to replace emails. And typewriters will never again be more than the wizened grandmother of the laptop, sitting on her divan reading the newspaper contented to let the younger generations rush around trying to be everything at once. I think we’re all okay with that and we have to be. I have always been sympathetic to Icarus and his desire to be a little higher. But to believe that we can do all that our Grandparents could do and more is as dangerously hubris-filled as believing an email can achieve everything that a letter in the mailbox ever could.