What happened to letters? Where have they gone?  And what happened to the thoughtful and more completed expression of the written or typed word within our lives?  What is missing in social 2012 is not just the medium of receiving a letter, but the craft, desire, and patience to take time to write words of consequence, importance, and permanence.  The communication explosion has in a way created serious communication fragmentation, at the expense of more meaningful correspondence.  In essence quantity over quality.  Students are on the cusp of being the most communicative generation in history, but saddled with decreased literacy skills and the ability to create a letter.  This is the literacy dilemma, the writing crisis.  On one hand the capability to become better writers through technology has not been matched with ability of students to actually write things of quality and completion.   As Hemingway wrote, “the art of writing is the art of re-writing.”  So it is possible to actually use technology to slow down, to help us think about what we write to another person? And can we make letters social again in the process at http://lettrs.com

I am the first to admit the benefits of accelerating certain aspects of our lives through technology:  appointments, paying bills, purchases, learning, functional communications and organizing our lives around the conveniences of a digitally enhanced world.  But a letter from one person to another is rarely a functional communication and not everything in life should be done faster.  How do we especially get our kids to accelerate the notion of actually slowing down when it comes to writing words that matter?  Playing music, savoring a special meal, sunset walks, holding hands and growing up do not improve at faster speeds - taking the time to write a meaningful letter is no different.

The proliferation of digital technology and social media have left a void here, for now. Communication, especially among the younger generation has become fragmented, often fast, with social communication and mobile platforms seeking quantity instead of quality.  People (young and old) are being programmed - conditioned in fact - by many social platforms to like, comment, tweet, text, or send at communication speeds that are more akin to a reflex rather than a well-composed expression of thought and ideas.

Educators are facing an uphill battle, in particular, and Nicholas Carr captured the essence of this trend in his book, The Shallows.

  1. Literacy Impact: Students are not learning effective writing from these reflex “exchanges” of communication today, which look more like running conversations than words that reflect any standards of literacy.
  2. Social Impact: Students are not truly corresponding with others, yielding few communications in their lives with any shelf life. We do a disservice to students if we do not adapt letter writing to their digital and social world.   
  3. Social Graces.  Sending an email, text, or tweet to say thank you for a "lovely evening" is downright pedestrian. 

Accelerated social communications can not only impact literacy & attention patterns for younger users, but they can leave most teenagers having never written (or experienced) a letter, which is delightfully absent a “reply” button.  And where would our history, culture, and society be without the presence of letters for the last 2,000 years? Letters are as much a part of our past (and future) as art, books, and music…even if the medium of the letter evolves like these other aspects of our world.  

lettrs was recently introduced as a new technology for "slower communications,” a platform to organize and power the world's letters. Soon lettrs offers a universal writing desk to distribute letters across familiar social platforms, with the old school option of hand-sealed postal service for the paper experience many stil cherish.  Maybe letters can survive - and flourish - in social once again...