When we first moved to Canada from England in 1980, I was ten years old. There was no email, in those days. The World Wide Web was not available to all. In order to stay in touch with all the people I'd left behind, I'd started writing letters. There were a lot of people I wanted to stay in contact with. Schoolfriends. Aunts, uncles and cousins. Grandparents. My father and step-mother, who were still back in England.
Most people wrote back. I would look forward to getting home from school and checking the mail, to see if any letters had arrived for me. I made a point of replying to every one. I became very good at writing letters, and the process became a ritual. I kept every letter I received in a letter rack, stacked in order of receipt with the oldest in front. When I sat down to write a reply, I would reply to the person whose letter I'd had the longest. If the person had asked any questions in their letter, I would make a point of replying to them, whether it was something generic like "how is school?", or as specific as, "how did that play go you were rehearsing for last time?" I would also write about any news that had occurred since last time I wrote to the person.
My letters were long, generally running to at least six pages, sometimes more. A lot of people gave me stationery sets when we moved to Canada. Generally they contained a number of decorated front sheets, the same number of envelopes, and half as many continuation sheets. I never understood this, because it wasn't enough. I used up all the continuation sheets within two or three letters and then either had to use more than one of the front sheets, or carry on with pieces of ordinary lined notepaper. I always wondered why there were never more continuation sheets than front sheets. How could anyone possibly have so little to say they could do it in a letter only a page long?
Somewhere in the last 20 years, the art of letter writing has been lost. I admit I don't write letters any more. Many of the people I used to write letters to are now on Facebook, so I keep up with their news that way. Pretty much all of them are on email, and I will occasionally send people newsy emails.
I write emails the way I write letters - in fact, the way I write anything. Sentences are complete, with all the punctuation in the correct place. They tend to be very long. Sometimes I miss writing letters, but it occurs to me that writing the blog is, for me, the modern equivalent of writing letters. I can relay my news via the World Wide Web, and I don't have to repeat myself - something of an advantage over letter writing, I must admit, as in my letter-writing heyday I was repeating the same news in every letter.
Nobody writes letters anymore, and not many people write long emails, either. I can't decide if this is down to laziness, to the fact that life has just got so busy, or that people's attention span has got shorter in the last 20 years. We are used to being fed instantaneous information, in short bursts - Tweets; texts; 30 second commercials. Now nobody wants to be bothered to read to the end of a lengthy email. A lot of people seem to write emails the way they write text messages - devoid of grammatical structure, and full of crass abbreviations ("u" instead of "you") and erroneous spellings.
Most people do not communicate via lengthy emails. Some people communicate entirely by mobile phone. I have always been a person who prefers written communication to verbal. There are very few people I have long telephone conversations with. If I've not seen you in a while and I want to chat, I am more likely to send you a long chatty email than I am to pick up the phone. But, I am a writer. Written communication is and always has been my strength.
Sometimes I mourn the lost art of letter writing. I sometimes regret we can't go back to those long-gone days when I used to look forward to getting home and reading a letter that had arrived in the post for me.
I also mourn the correct use of English. I don't know if grammar has been removed from the school curriculum these days - the appalling state of some people's Facebook statuses makes me suspect it has been - but certainly letter writing has been.
It may be that people have no need to write letters any more, but kids should still be taught how to form a sentence. Effective written communication, even by email, is an essential life skill. What chance have you got of getting the job if the cover email that accompanies your CV is written in text-speak? If I received a job application like this I would delete the email without even bothering to look at the CV. If I get an advertising brochure from anyone featuring a misplaced apostrophe in the word "its", I will make a point of avoiding whatever product it is advertising. There is no excuse for poor grammar, and no excuse for not knowing how to form a correct sentence.
If we were all taught how to write letters, we'd all be aware of that.