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Letter-writing: Connection in disconnected times

Emerson Weber writing a letterImage copyright
Hugh Weber

Image caption

Avid letter-writer Emerson Weber has kick-started a trend

“This Zoom stuff doesn’t cut it.”

That’s how the writer Lionel Shriver described communicating with friends and family during lockdown, summarising many of our frustrations.

While the coronavirus pandemic has presented challenges in all areas of our lives, the lack of human contact is one of the hardest. But for some, it has been a time to get creative about how we keep in touch and has prompted a return to a more traditional medium: letters.

As the lockdown was introduced in the Republic of Ireland in late March, the postal service, An Post, sent each household two free stamps and postcards to encourage people to write to each other. It has since reported an increase in non-business, person-to-person mail.

Riona Nolan, a 17-year-old student from County Carlow, used the opportunity to cut back on social media and instead put pen to paper.

“You have to really think about what you’re going to write instead of just shooting a text with a few words in it,” she says. Riona regularly exchanges letters with her friend, who lives just around the corner, and also writes to her grandmother.

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Media captionMany people are using the lockdown to pick up a pen instead of just typing a text or email

Riona says it is a far more personal, authentic form of communication. It’s also a welcome change from the bills and taxes that people usually receive through the letterbox.

But what does she write about when we are all stuck inside?

“I told her about how I was baking – I asked for any recipes she might have,” says Riona. “I was talking about how much the weather has improved since lockdown.

“I said how much I miss her and I was telling her about all the things I can’t wait to do when I see her again.”

“Dear Future Self…”

Letters are not only a form of communication. They can act as a museum piece for the future, as I discovered while seeing out lockdown at my parents’ house. On one rainy day I dug up a case of letters belonging to my grandmother, who died six years ago. The scrawled handwriting described historical events such as VE Day and the Queen’s coronation but, most importantly, captured my granny at her most alive.

Reading these letters encouraged me to write my own letters to friends. I wrote to a friend from school who said she recognised my handwriting as soon as the envelope landed on the doormat, despite not having seen it in more than 15 years.

Alison LaGarry and Lucia Mock, lecturers in education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, asked their students to write letters to their future selves as a way of documenting these strange times. The letters are then posted online so fellow students can read them and reply.

“In one short swoop, jam-packed streets transformed into ghost towns,” writes one student in their letter. “The world began to mirror much of your life: directionless.”

The letters expose these students’ innermost fears and anxieties in a way social media might not. Ms Mock says this is because there is always an element of performance in our on-screen lives.

“Letters encoura

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