Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Art of Letter-Writing

The secretaries in the camp office were alarmed when the first batch of mail written by campers to their families was collected. Stamps were stuck in random places on the envelopes, including on the back, instead of the upper right-hand corner of the envelope.  Addresses were incomplete, illegible and also found in strange and confusing places. It was a shock to realize that many young people (including staff!) do not know how to write and post a letter. Is Letter-Writing becoming a lost art?

Imagine what the world would have missed if the correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had been via e-mail? What if Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning had communicated via text message? And, how sad it would be if Jane Austen, Henry James, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin had tweeted, instead of producing the volumes of elegant prose, which preserve and enhance their legacy.

Camp is one of the few places where letter writing is still encouraged (and taught!). Campers are required to turn in a letter to their families to gain admission to lunch each Sunday. Counselors compose hand-written letters each week to send home to the parents of each of their campers describing the camper’s achievements and adjustment to the camp community. Hand-written letters flow freely between the girls’ camp and the boys’ camp.

Parents have told us for many years that they value these letters written by campers and counselors and save them along with other treasured mementos of childhood. Some parents have shared them with us, and these are a valuable piece of the history of the camps and of the family history of each camper. 

Technology today is encouraging short, superficial messages, rather than the deeper, more meaningful communication that occurs when letters are written. Text messaging is fine for letting your Mom know when soccer practice ends, and tweeting works to find out how Lance Armstrong is doing in the Tour de France. But if you want to let your parents know how it feels to stand on top of a 14,000’ mountain, or you want to tell them about your new friends, or you want to describe the sunset you saw last night from Top of the World, then letter writing is the only way.

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