Pandemic pen pals: 2020’s resurgence of writing letters

Letters have served as a formal communication method since the advent of written language. As modern postal systems developed, correspondence by mail became a popular way to keep in touch with family and friends across the country or down the block. In recent years, the advancement of technology has brought interpersonal messaging to a new frontier, allowing people to contact each other directly and instantly through short-form texts. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic settles over humanity, people have been returning to their postal roots and writing real, sentimental letters again.

Today, the mail system is used less for conversation and more for parcels, advertising, and invoices. Saturated with dull, uninspiring notes, the passing of time has more or less made the service impersonal. Lucy Benoit, a junior at Franklin, is part of the trend to change that. “I actually saw my friend Arden post something on Instagram offering to start writing cards to people,” she recounts. “I was immediately interested, so I replied and we started writing.” Before long, Lucy decided to expand the small project to more people. As she continued to write, she began to fully realize the benefits of letter-writing over texting or video chatting.

    “I’ve really loved being able to take time and step away from all my other responsibilities and thoughts, and just focus on the art I put on a card or what I want to write,” Lucy explains. “It’s definitely helped my mental health, even just temporarily.” Indeed, taking the time to write a longer, thought-out piece adds an intimacy that doesn’t translate to other mediums. “It’s just nice to have a way of connecting with and appreciating people that feels more thoughtful,” she adds.

Meanwhile, some have exceeded the boundaries of their hometowns in search of more worldly connection. 17-year-old Jennifer Solano writes letters from her home in Costa Rica to people thousands of miles away. “I’ve learned a lot about other places that I didn’t know before,” she writes to me. Jennifer uses an app called SLOWLY to send digital letters internationally. It matches her with pen pals around the world that have similar interests, and facilitates delivery over a period of hours that varies depending on how far away the recipient is. To those not wanting to pay for international mail or wait several weeks between letters, the app acts as a sturdy alternative. “I would’ve never imagined that Ohio was ‘all corn and grocery stores,’” she adds with a laugh, quoting her pen pal.

Before now, today’s youth have not been known to often devote their time or attention to long-winded correspondence. It is the common grandparent’s struggle to try to get their grandchildren to write back, for example. However, in today’s unique circumstances—an abundance of time coupled with limited activities available—young adults have been more willing and able than ever to pick up a pen. If you yourself are finding it hard to pass the hours, try reaching out to friends for their addresses. There’s never been a better time to start writing!

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