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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Is the art of writing letters dead?
Is the art of letter writing dead?
The US Postal Service is blaming the increasing use of email for its mounting financial woes.

The keyboard and the screen are replacing pen and paper. Forget the carefully considered letter. These days it's more likely to be a mobile phone text message and cu l8r!

Some are already bemoaning the demise of the art of letter writing. Publishers of collected letters could soon run out of material.

But is it true, and does it matter? After all, the biro replaced the quill and no one batted an eyelid. And are emails really any worse than a more conventional letter?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I agree with Mari of Scotland - e-mail has restored the use of the written word as a means of day to day communication to a level not seen since the Victorians. And have you noticed how people increasingly use their mobile phones for text messages - which could be thought of as a type of e-mail. So e-mail is not only reducing use of postal services it is reducing use of conventional phone calls as well.
Alan Tyne, UK

Progress cannot be stopped

Evan Reineking, USA
I'm sure the post made just as much ruckus when we invented the telephone. Progress cannot be stopped. As long as we all have bills to pay, the postal service with have something to deliver, even on Saturdays.
Evan Reineking, USA

My handwriting is naturally bad, and my spelling not much better. To write a readable letter therefore takes me some time. I can type it quicker into a word document, then either print it off and sign and post it, or if the recipient has e-mail I can go online and send it and they can read it the same hour. Which one would you send?
Keith, UK

If you want to remain in social contact with someone abroad, a family member or friend, email is perfect for the kind of gossip which cements these relationships. I can talk to my brother in the USA about the most trivial daily stuff.

Those who think that electronic information is safely archived for future generations have obviously never tried reading old digital media. In 20 years time, any electronic information written today will be unreadable. Remember 5 1/2" floppies? That is the CDROM in 2020. Unless we actively manage our archives, the historical details they contain will be lost.
Michael, UK

One example of where technology actually has a positive benefit

James Blair, UK
E-mail is a new form of communication, and so it is unfair to compare to letters. For formal applications, letters to loved ones, pen and paper is still order of the day. However, having friends all over the world, e-mail has been a God-send - it means I can write many more 'letters' than I otherwise would, and allows quick responses, and makes organising visits abroad much easier. E-mail will never replace the personal touch of a written letter, but it has opened a who new era of communications, and is one example of where technology actually has a positive benefit.
James Blair, UK

I think that electronic mail will prove to be an invaluable resource for future historians studying our everyday interactions. E-mail exchanges have largely replaced telephone conversations (which are forever lost, unless tapped), and many people nowadays hardly ever delete non-junk email since there is absolutely no need to do so: the storage capacity of modern computers far exceeds the space required to store a lifetime's e-mail exchanges. In fact, a single CD which sells for a couple of dollars can store 200,000 email messages. Computers not only give people the ability to store mass amounts of electronic communications, but also make it much easier to manage it.
George, US

E-mails are fine for scholarly, business, and other official communication. Whenever I write an e-mail message, I always feel I am writing a "memorandum," or some other kind of formal inter-office memo. This is understandable, since e-mail, and indeed the entire Internet virtual world, evolved in institutional (chiefly corporate, military, and university) environments, where people constantly role-play, and where people who work in these settings quickly forget how artificial they have in fact become.
Louis B. Massano, U.S.A.

I really cannot see any long-term future for the postal delivery service in the UK except parcel delivery. Writing letters may have the personal touch but this does make up for the fact that it is slow, cumbersome and very restrictive when compared to sending e-mail and all the things you can do with it.
Nick, England

I correspond with my daughter in Queensland at least twice a week via Email. Just normal Mum/daughter chat, much better than having to sit and put pen to paper. With the price of postage there's no comparison.
Marilyn C, UK

Excellent. Yet another means of communication. More methods, more media, more information, more, more, more, more! How much that is said, written, said actually matters? Not much. It's not quantity but quality that counts. The signal matters more than the noise and I fear we are communicating too much noise and the signal gets lost amongst the torrents of words. A little less and a little more silence perhaps?
Paul Bridle, UK

Office emails are getting out of hand

Bettina Adams, England
Email is a fantastic instrument to communicate information - if used effectively; after all this very forum and exchange of ideas would not be possible without it. However I find that office emails are getting out of hand; people should talk to each other more and not send emails for everything. Writing, sending, reading and replying to an invitation to a meeting could be done in 2 minutes on the phone.
Bettina Adams, England

Electronic messaging has created boundless new vistas for written communication. It isn't only keypads and monitors that have conquered our desktops. We can now scan in and send any mail we want to almost anyone we can think of, to everyone at once in a click of the mouse. And that, sadly for snail mail, includes hand-written works of art. Just like the quill pen SM is out. With SMS and email there's simply no contest.
Simon Cameron, UK

I find the pressure of replying to emails much higher than it was with letters. People expect an instant reply to instant communication, I could take my time with a letter.
Simon, UK

Everything has its pros and cons

Thomas, Kenya
I am a student from Kenya here in England and I have to admit that the email has helped me to keep in touch with my girlfriend and friends more regularly than letters. Everything has its pros and cons. When you finish reading an email message, you delete it. For a letter you keep it.
Thomas, Kenya

I work in a tiny office at my church where there is no email. Sometimes people are so desperate to email me that I have to give them my home email address, but everyone else gets their information by post. Usually they seem to be overjoyed when they get 'a proper letter' instead of the usual mix of spelling errors and mumbled telephone messages. It might be slow, but it's keeping a small portion of our parish afloat and that's great news.
R. V. Bould, Wales, UK

The writing of personal letters has been in decline since the widespread use of telephones, faxes and now email. However the volume of mail handled here in Britain by the Royal Mail is at an all time high. This growth is mainly in direct advertising (junk mail) bank correspondence, bills and magazine subscriptions. More people now have bank accounts and PCs. This generates more and more mail through internet shopping, credit card correspondence etc. Technology is here to stay. The Royal Mail use it to enhance and improve their business to meet the target of pure excellence !!!
Mick Woods, England

E-mail has brought the world closer together

Robert Bounous, Taiwan
To all those e-mail bashers - you are only participating in this forum because you have access to the web. How on earth would we know the opinion of a chap from Kazakhstan, or Mexico or me from Taiwan if we didn't have e-mail? E-mail has brought the world closer together.
Robert Bounous, Taiwan

The US postal service exists to provide a service for people, not the other way around. A new, preferable method of communication has arrived and quite legitimately superseded the traditional letter - just like the demise of the Pony Express! If the directors of the US postal service had any sense they would have ensured they played a crucial role in the development of new information technologies such as e-mail from the beginning.
Rob Harris, UK

The postal service will always have a place in the national infrastructure due to its ability to transport items as well as words. It is obvious from the recent 'What would you send?' advertising scheme that the Royal Mail is focusing on this sector as its major market. Until some clever bod invents a way to email a box of chocolates or a ten pound note there will always be a place for 'snail mail'.
Stuart Lee, UK

The information exchanged is almost immediately lost

Jo, UK
My husband's grandfather has put together several books of his memoirs of his life and career. One of the most interesting of these is a collection of letters exchanged during the war when he and his wife were living in Leicester and their families were in Birmingham. It is an amazing insight into how the war affected the lives of ordinary people. I agree that e-mail and text messaging has probably increased communications (I certainly keep in touch with friends that I may otherwise have lost) but the information exchanged is almost immediately lost. Future generations will never find out about the day-to-day things that were important to us, but not necessarily important enough to make it into the history books.
Jo, UK

I am a postal worker in the UK and have relations who have been in Canada for almost 30 years. Although we have kept in touch we have never kept any sort of regular correspondence going. That is until last year I got online at home. Now we e-mail each other almost once a week. The person I e-mail in Canada also used to work for the postal administration. Strange that 2 people who have worked in the Post Office so long should be users of the very system (e-mail) that may see its demise.
Paul, Scotland

Hopefully when my child is born later this year he should have a picture the same day wherever he may be

Mark Wood, Yorkshire, UK
I have a friend who is taking a year off from his career to travel and work around Australia. Just a few years ago I would have had to hand write a letter (and my writing is bad) and wait maybe a month for a reply, If he was travelling how would I know where to send the letter to? Things are better now. I can send a text message to him for the same cost of sending one to someone in the UK and he receives it instantaneously. For a more detailed letter I can also email his hotmail account and he can log in and check it anywhere in the world. I can send pictures for free by scanning them in and he can get them printed over there. Hopefully when my child is born later this year he should have a picture the same day wherever he may be.
Mark Wood, Yorkshire, UK

Some of the managers where I work send out atrocious e-mails, full of spelling and grammatical errors. This would never have happened when secretaries typed all the correspondence.
George, England

Old letters reveal a great deal of social and other history. With emails our history is usually trashed. The value of used stamps issued since email was introduced will rise because they will be in limited supply.
Ian, England

The furious pace of modern life gives people no choice but to use email and their mobiles. But I'm sure the art of writing letters will never die out!!!
Michael, Kazakhstan

Nothing beats the sweet pleasure of a carefully crafted letter

Neville, UK
Nothing beats the sweet pleasure of a carefully crafted letter, written for a special person. New forms of communication are functional, swift, useful and terminally dim. They have their place, which is not in the heart.
Neville, UK

In business, a formal email is written and treated exactly the same as a normal letter. However, I feel there is a danger that in the future actual hand-writing skills, as opposed to letter-writing, may not be taught so much in schools as all kids will have computers.
Jeff Scholey, UK

SMS and emails have not really changed the way people communicate but enhanced it. People still write letters, the Royal Mail receives more post than it ever does, SMS and email are an additional way of communicating instantly and more frequently.
Ali, UK

I must be some kind of anomaly. I work in the IT support industry and communicate with people all over the globe via email. If I were to write as many conventional letters I wouldn't be able to afford the postage. To counterpoint this I always use a fountain pen when writing by hand (that was until some swine stole it off my desk).
Jeff Dray, England

The rise in the use of e-mail in a country with a non-existent postal service has greatly helped

Adrian Waters, Mexico
I am an ex-pat English teacher and the rise in the use of e-mail in a country with a non-existent postal service has greatly helped. Also English teaching used to focus very much on listening and speaking but now with e-mail English teachers are reviving the teaching of writing, but with a twist.
Adrian Waters, Mexico

People should definitely write more. Emails and SMS have their place as quick and easy methods of communication, but writing letters forces you to actually think about what you are trying to say. If we stop writing altogether, we might be in danger of forgetting how to really express ourselves to each other.
Fi, UK

If the other members of my family didn't have email they would hardly ever hear from me. And one can personalise email in many ways: choice of fonts, colours, stationary etc, and I never forget to 'post' them (I once carried a letter around for a year, intending to post it!).
Don Ward, France

E-mail/ text messaging and letter writing serve two different purposes. E-mail is great for fast communication of short messages, but there will always be a place as well, for a rambling, hand-written letter. Nothing beats receiving a 'real' letter in amongst the junk mail. In my view a letter means more than flowers or presents, as it takes a bit of time and effort. Lack of time is no excuse for not writing letters - we MAKE time for the things we think are important.
Sandra, UK

The beauty of e-mail and SMS is that people stay in touch more regularly

Paul B, UK
The beauty of e-mail and SMS is that people stay in touch more regularly. My flatmate sends quick messages to his auntie in New Zealand several times a month. If he had to sit down and write a letter then she'd be lucky to hear from him once a year. Similarly, if people want to pull a sickie then they can send an SMS to the boss rather than not call at all because they don't want to speak to him. So at least the message gets through. The people who blame e-mail for the loss of the art of writing are just another strain of Luddite. Shall we whinge about the loss of the art of scroll-rolling, or quill-plucking?
Paul B, UK

Going from posting letters to posting emails, I've noticed a few things. They always get there, they are free, they are less formal and more personal, and they are fun! Which is more than can be said for trudging through the rain to a post-box, and hoping your letter won't be lost, stolen, or three weeks late! I can't spell check my letters, but my emails can be checked in a fraction of a second!
Alex, England

I think email has REVIVED letter writing but just in a different form. And text messaging is a great new way of communicating - precise, short and sweet. You can't make out most people's handwriting these days anyway!
Mairi, Scotland

Surely if more people are using email and SMS to communicate, then the smaller volume of post should enable Royal Mail to deliver mail faster. Yet the post is worse than it's ever been! Explain that one...!
Dean, UK

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