Hollywood Keeps Letter Writing Alive

The postal service lost $3.8 billion last year, but at least it's still got one big booster: Hollywood. Most of us use Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, YouTube, and blogs to communicate, but the movies are still trafficking in old-fashioned, handwritten letters. In Dear John, a soldier overseas has a gushing, epistolary romance with his girlfriend back home. Letters to God is about an 8-year-old boy with cancer who sends dispatches to You Know Who and the mail carrier who befriends him. That's not to be confused with the upcoming Letters to Juliet, about an aspiring journalist (another dying breed!) who discovers a lost "Dear Abby"–like note on a trip to Italy and responds with her own advice on love.

Some of this paper fetish has to do with screenwriters showing their age, but most of it has to do with nostalgia. You can't pack the same narrative punch with e-mails, because we don't associate technology with voice (unless that digitized voice-recognition-speak does something for you). In Dear John the letters become a character in the movie, conveying a sense of longing, lust, passion, and desire. By contrast, when the heroine of Letters to Juliet text-messages her boyfriend, it's meant to illustrate their detachment. You don't have to be a hopeless romantic to lament the death of letter writing or to find cheer in the Hollywood fantasy that young people somehow still care about it. A few years ago, when the College Board decided to add a written section to the SAT, some people wondered: do high-school students still write with pencils? Letters take us back to a time when we were careful with the printed word. When you write on paper, it's a permanent declaration, which is why so many people save letters (and why so many of us quickly delete e-mails). The truth is, the Internet has made us careless writers. And crass. Nobody even signs his or her name anymore. Unless your initials are OMG, LOL, or BRB.

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