From my sketchbook: The magic of the letterbox


20070529.1841

When I was younger, maybe 12 or 13 years old, I would daydream about sending a letter to my future self requesting he travel back in time to show me the future. I imagined that I would ask to be collected on the exact date and at the exact time I deposited the letter into the letterbox, so that the time portal would materialise next to as the letter left my fingers.

Unlike most contemporary forms of communication, there is no direct reaction to sending a letter, no dial tone or “sent” confirmation. Instead, there is a complex process, an entirely hidden industry, that connects the letterbox to the rest of the world. The mystery of this process establishes the likelihood of magic.

2 thoughts on “From my sketchbook: The magic of the letterbox

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  1. I love this drawing and sentiment, W.

    My romantic idea is that when letter writing was in it’s heyday, communication was characterised by a greater level of thoughtfulness, patience, and careful consideration. There was an art to writing a good letter. There were conventions on how it should or could be hand written or typed on the page. Spacing on the page mattered. Hand writing was personal and intimate and carried layers of meaning beyond the words. There was also a special effort required to communicate which added gravitas and care – find the materials, make the time to write the letter, sign it, address the envelope, apply the stamp, physically go to the mail box, wait patiently for the reply, and so on.

    Now I communicate with people between stop lights in my car and my preference is oftentimes for an instantaneous response. It’s stream of consciousness communication. I write emails for work with little convention. I no longer address people on emails (even if I haven’t met them) with ‘Dear’, my sign off is an automatic signature requiring no symbolic moment of physically signing my name. There’s a focus on the immediate, hardly ever any reflection. There’s no ritual involved in the sending or receiving of mail – I have auto send/receive so I don’t have to go to an actual mail box at all. I don’t compose emails as much as I ‘bang them out’. I don’t think I’m the only one who has transformed and evolved/devolved their communication like this. Of course not all emails are equal and some receive a disproportionate degree of care and work but I’m talking about the general trend.

    If speed of communication, efficiency and effectiveness are the key measures well that’s fine, but I feel not a little nostalgia for the humble but noble art and ritual of letter writing.

    I wonder how it would be if the great efforts, resources and urgency being used to improve our methods of communication were being matched by efforts, resources and urgency to improve the art, thought and quality of the content of our communication.

    1. Fine response, Trevor, as always thoughtfully composed.

      In my professional life, I try to retain at least some of the structure of a traditional letter – a salutation, paragraphs and punctuation, a signature that varies depending on the formality of the correspondence, and certainly no feed from previous email content. I get lazy with this process sometimes though and will now endeavour to return vigour to its implementation.

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