Hello, Goodbye: The Demise of Handwritten Notes

Handwritten NoteRecently, a story aired on CBS New York about an elderly couple who saved thousands of handwritten notes for Valentine’s Day. The couple had their love notes organized by date and year in containers, making it easy for the two to look back on their love, year after year. 

Everyday, since 1974, when Bill and Kris Bresnan met, the two have written each other handwritten letters, accumulating 10,000 letters over time, a lasting documentation of their 40-year love story.

Seeing this story had third parties thinking, at what point in time did handwritten notes cease to exist? Is it a generational gap? 

Maybe these notes still exist ,but are rare in the digital age of e-mail, texts and even typed letters. Think back to the last time you received a handwritten note or card from someone that wasn’t your mom, dad, or grandparents. It was probably in elementary school. 

By the time we became middle school students, the question “What’s your screen name?” was taking the hallways by storm, and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) took over our after school lives. After the instant messaging phenomenon wore out, we all had cell phones and began texting. Somewhere between texting slang and disdain for face-to-face conversation, the long time tradition of sending handwritten notes got lost in translation. 

“I don’t think I’ve gotten a handwritten note since I was in fourth grade. At least within the past 10 years any letter I’ve received, if that, has been typed,” said Alli Ganim, a freshman social work student.

One of the major downfalls to handwritten notes is the amount of time it takes to get to the receiver. It would take at least two days with standard postal services, whereas with advanced technology, we can contact anybody within a matter of seconds through email, texting, and calling. Even without these 3 options, social media is available with direct messaging capabilities.

Think about it. Using social media limits users to a 140-character message. That’s all well and good for a conversation about where to meet up for lunch, if there was any homework for class, or if your friend watched his or her favorite show last night. It’s not so good for messages telling someone how you really feel, or that you appreciate their friendship.

Forrest Taylor, a junior communication student, said, “I personally feel that receiving something handwritten rather than in a text message or email shows the receiver that the person writing the message is putting more time and effort into it, ultimately making the message more meaningful.”

Writing something handwritten to someone could even become a keepsake and a way to look back on the memories shared with friends, just like the elderly couple does every year for Valentines Day. When we were younger, having mail with our name on it to open was the most exciting thing in the world. Even now, when students receive a care package from Mom and Dad, at least a little bit of excitement sinks in because we have a package to open with unknown contents. It’s a thought from the heart and it’s something we treasure.

Dr. Lisa Dinella, an assistant professor of psychology, gave some insight on why handwritten notes might appear more meaningful. She mentioned, however, that these are all theories, and not empirical facts that she has known anyone to study or test. 

“There is a theory in psychology called the investment model, which says that relationship satisfaction is tied to one’s evaluation of costs versus benefits. Receiving love letters increases the benefits. But it also says that commitment to a relationship is related to how invested someone is in the relationship. So writing a handwritten letter (which takes longer) would be a sign that a partner is more invested (which would make the letter writer feel more committed),” Dinella explained.

So why not bring back handwritten notes? It gives you the chance to make someone’s day and possibly have yours made in return. If Bill and his wife Kris can write each other every day for 40 years, you can write one letter every once in a while. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, try picking up the phone to say hello rather than type it.