A former Time Out writer harks back to the days of handwritten letters.
O'Connell covers the book world for a number of British newspapers. Now 40, he describes himself as having been an inveterate letter writer before the days of email. Like everyone else, he admits, he was seduced by the speed and ease of email communications, but now he is rethinking the question. For him, texting and Twitter were steps too far. “[P]eople have to understand,” he writes, “we've been sold this idea of progress and it's…wrong. Just because you develop a new thing, it doesn’t mean earlier versions of that thing have to become obsolete.” The physicality embodied in a handwritten letter carries meaning, especially after the passage of time. O’Connell writes that a handwritten condolence letter he received after the death of his mother set him on this track. He also believes that a collection of letters trumps biography: Letters “encapsulate [a life] more effectively.” The author is at pains to make clear that typewritten letters are just as bad as email. Another of his bugaboos is the round-robin missive that shares family news, whatever its medium of communication. “It’s one of the tragedies of the modern world,” he writes, “the way the round-robin has survived, like some demonic post-apocalyptic cockroach.” One might think this aggressive nostalgia is a bit of tongue-in-cheek British humor if not for the fact that O’Connell devotes much of the book to excerpted correspondence by literary and political figures—e.g., Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and others.
Quirky, crotchety and unconvincing.