I've begun to fight the extinction of handwritten letters. I've seen enough historical documentaries to appreciate, even enjoy, the recitation of old letters. They're not only utilitarian, but works of art; in some cases penmanship; in more cases eloquence. Yet, the larger issue is less about preservation of an art form and more motivated out of a practical need. Still, beyond this need there lies an even deeper purpose for the preservation of the hard copy.
I first thought of this need when newspapers, in their tangible hard copy form, began disappearing as the industry imploded. Risking digression, journalism as a career, like many other vocations important to society, at least a civil society, seem to be going the way of the Dodo.
Email has made the handwritten letter's demise imminent, and online versions of newspapers, magazines, journals and the like, have made their hard copy ancestors just as threatened. With new electronic gadgets: the iPad, the Kindle, and Barnes and Noble's Nook, it seems the hard copy is poised to take its place along with the other casualties of electronic media's efficiency.
While the need for news, music, literature and communication will continue to be met through electronic means, it remains to be seen how the demand for this information will be distributed with say, a loss of electricity. Obviously this issue is only the most superficial of practical challenges. The true importance of the hard copy, when it comes to written communication, far outweighs such a shallow survey.
The irony is not lost on me that I am utilizing an electronic mode of communication that contributes to the hard copy's moribund state. Perhaps through the the utilization of the blog format I've acted as somewhat of a traitor to the cause.
The importance of the hard copy, however, reaches far beyond any utilitarian need or literary aesthetic. When one holds the printed word in their hand they're holding onto the effort of writers, editors, designers and printers. Perhaps the importance of the written word, and consequently the hard copy, was best described by Neil Simon in "Biloxi Blues": "People believe whatever they read. Something magical happens once it's put down on paper. They figure no one would have gone to the trouble of writing it down if it wasn't the truth." By extension, if it's "less trouble" to put something into print, like in an email or in online form for example, it may leave truth less sincere--less truthful.
And beyond taking the trouble to write thoughts down, the soul of the writer, and the writer's ideas, are only amplified when more "trouble" is taken to put those thoughts into a tangible or hard copy form. Even if the print is a handwritten letter, the writer must take the extra initiative to place his or her thoughts inside an envelope, purchase and apply postage, and send it on its way--certainly a greater effort than simply pushing the "return" button on a computer.
Imagine how much more of an effort it is to print a story or column in a newspaper; to create a master copy, place it appropriately among the other stories and columns, run it through a press, and distribute it (not to mention the cost). It's no easier to publish a book. If one thinks about what it takes to print and bind a book it's clear that the value of the word is far greater in its hard copy form.
To hold a tangible version of an idea may seem, in this day and age, archaic; perhaps even sentimental. Yet, beyond the romantic notion of pulling a dusty hard bound novel from a shelf, musty smelling, pages yellowing at the edges, a reader knows the sincerity, ambition and initiative that it took to put that concrete representation in their hand far outweighs the disposable words on a monitor.