Signs of growth: new life for letters

Signs of growth: new life for letters

The idea that ‘the letter is dead’ because of new technological developments, in particular SMS, email and social media, is not one that finds much favour here (and for an extended version of this argument, see Stanley 2015 referenced below). Certainly the conventional forms of letter-writing – which are in fact of fairly recent western origin – have declined severely. But alongside this, there are many signs that epistolarity, the wider communicative impulse that underpins letter-writing and related activities, continues to be alive and well and indeed flourishes.

A web-based 2016 campaign called ‘Month of Letters’ has been succeeded by many blogs promoting the use of a range of apps to communicate with other people on paper and via the postal system. A number of these take the form of printed postcards using photographs by the writer, although printed and dispatched by third parties who make a modest charge for this service. The best known apps here are the widely used ‘My Postcard’ and ‘Touchnote’.


I also really like ‘Postcards from Timbuktu’ and have used it to send messages and nice postcards to a number of friends and acquaintances. I particularly enjoy knowing that a Timbuktu postman has been involved, and that the project creates work and income as well as pleasure.


A longer-standing development in an epistolary vein is ‘The Letters Page’, a literary and creative writing publication taking the form of (hand)written letters. At times it exceeds its letters mission, but it’s an innovative and at times exhilarating read.


Another favourite is ‘Open Letters’, an architecture and design use of the open letter sub-genre of epistolarity produced to facilitate collegial discussion and debate, which has been publishing for a while now. Unsurprisingly, its design values are high. It’s always interesting, sometimes annoying – and it makes you think!


Other favourite developments of an epistolary kind? Please email with some detail. And new year’s greetings to all for 2017!

Liz Stanley 2015 ‘The Death of the Letter? Epistolary Intent, Letterness and the Many Ends of Letter-Writing‘ Cultural Sociology 9(2):240-55. DOI: 10.1177/1749975515573267.

Last updated: 22 December 2016


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