A Case for the Return of the Pen Pal

A postcard collection can grown from many pen pals.

When was the last time you licked an envelope closed? Peeled a stamp off the roll to affix to an envelope? Even wrote the word “dear”?

In pen that is, email formalities don’t count.

showing a postcard against a blue sky, postcards are just one type of pen pal mail you can send and receive.
Finding a letter or postcard tucked between bills can instantly make a trip to the mailbox more exciting.

Perhaps reading those questions the answers quickly come to you. Maybe you fly through stamps like others fly through their Netflix queue. Perhaps placing letters in the post box is a part of your weekly routine. If that is the case, you probably read the title of this post then surmised the biggest eye roll you could manage. I get it — saying letter writing is rare is such a Gen Z thing to claim.

“Back in my day we had no cellphones or video chats! We talked in person or sent snail mail!” you scream at your screen while shaking a fist, outraged by my preposterous assertion. But please, just hear me out.

On the other side of things, maybe you read this title and thought it was an outrageous claim not because technology has rotted our brains, but because technology exists. You’re not shaking your fist at my claim no one sends letter, you’re confused as to why we would. So I ask the same thing of you, please hear me out.

According to Pew Research Centre, the volume of packages USPS delivers annually has doubled. This is undoubtedly thanks to the surge in online retailers and the consumer convenience of getting products delivered to your door. The same study found that since 2000, the postal service has seen a 31.4% decline in the amount of mail it processes. This figure includes letters, postcards and packages. So, the higher online shopping rates aren’t even offsetting the decline in paper mail we used to send and receive.

Postcard with note to show sample text.
Jot down some thoughts and grab a stamp, nothing beats a hand-written note.

In a sense, that can be a good thing. Certainly more people choose to get their bills and documents sent electronically, which saves a lot of paper from ending up in the bin. But, the switch to digital communications for personal matters means the joy of receiving a handwritten letter or a scrawled on postcard is being diminished.

Instead of sending a postcard to our closest friends about our travels, we can post a photo on Instagram. This way, all of our friends get to know what we’re up to. And our acquaintances. And exes. And strangers. Instead of sending letters to keep in touch with friends, we can shoot them a text–ensuring they constantly stay updated about what is going on in our lives.

The instantaneous communication revolution is miraculous, it is easier than ever to maintain social relationships over long distances. Given that social relationships are a key component of our happiness, I would never wish for that ease to go away. I am simply recommending complementing the texting, posting and video chatting with the odd handwritten note.

We are constantly bombarded with digital messages. They come from friends and family, and also commercial entities we really don’t care too much about (looking at you retail email lists). Even in our paper mail we get commercial communications (looking at you Subway coupons that show up every month). So, receiving a letter from a dear friend or family member can be such a pleasant surprise.

Two envelopes ripped open and a postcard.
I like to keep all the fun mail I get, it’s a nice reminder that my people care about me.

The price of postage is worth it for the happiness a good note will bring a loved one. The act of writing the letter can be good for you too. Writing is therapeutic, and although you may not want to treat that distanced friend as a therapist, writing down some thoughts and feelings is a good way to process events going on in your life. But, what if the friend you’re writing already knows everything going on thanks to that instantaneous communication we were discussing earlier? That’s okay! Talk about a nice memory, tell them a song you’ve been listening to, suggest future plans. When you put pen to paper you’ll be amazed at what comes out.

A postcard collection can grown from many pen pals.
Another benefit of a pen pal: your postcard collection can grow! It’s like receiving a note and a piece of art.

If it’s motivational to you, start romanticizing letter writing. Be intentional about how and when you do it. Conjure in your mind the image of yourself cozied up with a cup of tea in one hand and pen in the other. Make establishing a pen pal a type of self care. It is a moment to connect with yourself in a way that also allows you to connect to others.

Keep letter writing low pressure, do it because you want to bring a smile to a friends face, or because you want to express yourself. Please, just try it for yourself and see how giddy you get when a letter arrives in return. Ripping open the envelope to devour the words written in your pal’s handwriting is a special feeling. It’s a feeling that can’t be easily replaced by emails or texts.

5 Comments

  1. hey Amanda, it was really nice to discover your blog and read this post πŸ™‚ it reminded me when I had a few penpals from all over the world πŸ™‚ it was so magical to get those letters, some with postcards too eheh stay safe and greetings from Lisbon (Portugal) πŸ™‚ PedroL

    Liked by 1 person

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