Saturday, 24 January 2009

In defense of letters (against technology)

Alexander von Humboldt to Aimé Bonpland:

"I entreat you to send me, in a letter, and soon, your beautiful face, drawn with a drawing pencil for a Louisdor, nothing but a sketch, the profile. I will refund expenses (in a tender way). Not a Lady, but the king desires it. He is having a Chimborazo-picture painted. We are in the foreground, I with a sextant, you sitting on the ground, sorting plants. Likeness is wished-for, the smallest drawing is enough. Don't you forget it. You are, as justified, on the way to immortality."
(Forgive the translation, it was done in a rush. I am not quite sure what he means by refunding expenses in a tender way? I'll leave it up to your interpretation. Haha.)

Hell yes! Back in the day people knew how to write letters. (They were also all completely gay. Of course. But that is irrelevant now.)
This is just an ordinary, everyday note, dealing with business, actually, though between friends. Nothing special at all. Still I'd probably sell a number of valued possessions if in return, I could get hold of someone who'd send me letters like that. Or any letters at all.
This century is despicable, in that respect. We're so lazy, so impatient: text messages, emails, skype. Bah! Takes away the sweet pleasure of anticipation when you walk downstairs in the morning, open the post box, find a letter. The unparalleled feeling of - gently - opening the envelope, and holding a physical piece of paper in your hands, a letter, much more permanent and reassuring than the ephemeral email, which disappears so easily, at the press of a key. The letter remains. You can smell it and touch it and press it to your heart, let your tears fall on it and smudge the ink. Carry it outside and read it on a bench in the garden. Keep it in your notebook, to re-read whenever the fancy strikes you. Until it has gone dog-eared and soft from so much use. Then place it in a secret drawer and forget about it, until you are old, and wise, and stumble across it some day, looking for sealing wax, and the ancient, yet familiar words will unearth some nostalgic emotion in your heart, and kindle a flame that interferes with your pace-maker and finally kills you. On a sunny day in June, outside, on that aged, greying bench in the garden, that aged and greyed with you. And you die. But happy.
Tell me a similar story that involves e-mail. See? No chance.

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